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Denver’s “have and have-nots”
The good news is that the new development and growth of downtown Denver is spiking the city’s economy, but the bad news is that this same positive growth is displacing and creating more challenges for Denver’s homeless. Shown above are four different scenarios depicting LoDo. (Clockwise), Denver’s homeless lines up at the Denver Rescue Mission for food and shelter, El Chapultepec world-renowned for jazz; Coors Field on opening day 2013; and Snooze, a trendy breakfast establishment where downtown’s “haves” line up on any given day for a gourmet breakfast. (Clockwise from top left: La Voz file photo, La Voz photo by Amber Feese, La Voz photo by Amber Feese, La Voz photo by Deleno Austin)

By Ernest Gurulé

Part II of II

About this time of year, it used to be a regular insert in daily papers; a little box somewhere on the front page officially counting down the shopping days ‘til Christmas. But with the internet, merchants have found better ways of marking time — down to the second. But that will not happen here. Suffice to say, the holidays are coming … soon.

The Downtown Denver Partnership, a non-profit organization representing more than 700 members — business owners and others with an interest in keeping center city vibrant — will be pulling out all the stops as it tries to lure warm bodies out into the cold nights for a visit — perhaps their only visit of the year — to the city. To lure them takes more than an invitation.

“The city is a showcase,” says Jenny Starkey, spokesperson for DDP. The city is for people to “eat, shop, play during the holidays.” And to make certain that there is something for every potential visitor DDP has made the next six weeks a virtual holiday production.

From now until the calendar turns over, there will be a nearly non-stop array of events aimed at exciting the sensory and creating a ‘holiday experience.’ Lights, choirs, concerts and ice skating — just to reinforce the holidays — will be daily or nightly events.

This Friday, local television will host its annual “Parade of Lights,” an event that brings tens of thousands to the Denver as City Hall lights up. But anyone wanting to avoid the crowd — an estimated 100,000 for this event — can instead opt for Union Station, Larimer Square, a newly renovated 14th Street or the Denver Pavilions where other lighting or holiday events are scheduled.

For the holiday period, which begins on Friday, lodging becomes a premium and lunch and dinner reservations spike whether at a quiet bistro or in elegance at The Brown Palace. Many, if not most, hospitality venues make their budgets over the next six weeks.

The Partnership’s efforts are just one component of the city’s overall effort to bring people downtown. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Starkey says hundreds of thousands will come downtown and spend money.

Each year, locals and visitors to the city add more than $3 billion to the Denver economy. Sporting events and concerts have inoculated the city with new revenues. Downtown’s Pepsi Center with the Avalanche and Nuggets serve up entertainment half the year. But nothing has had the impact of the Rockies.

With 82 home games each year, the Rockies and Coors Field are responsible for a sizable portion of those visitors from April to September. “Coors Field has been the catalyst for a lot of good things down here,” says Jay Alves, Rockies Vice President of Communications. “We average 35,000 a night. When they pour out, they go somewhere.”

The ‘somewhere’ they go is to any number of venues — bars, restaurants, upscale condos or apartments — that have sprouted up in the shadow of Coors Field, a zip code once synonymous with neglect. Coors Field, Alves says, “has revitalized the area.” Indeed, before the Rockies the area was more ‘no-go’ than LoDo, the area’s name since the early ‘90s.

Today, Coors Field is the keystone for a community that boasts seven-figure addresses, four-star restaurants and, on any given weekend night, Denver’s ‘beautiful’ people who visit the haunts to see or be seen. The term ‘20th and Blake’ is no longer a compass point. Today it has become more a Denver state of mind that reflects everything from opulence to decadence.

But two short decades ago it would have been hard to visit here and not see homeless wandering where limousines, pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages are now common place. The area was Denver’s skid row where mostly homeless men wandered alongside the shuttered buildings or hunkered down in their ‘homes;’ selected spots beneath the slats that doubled as sidewalks. LoDo was a place people drove through and rarely drove to.

But the homeless did not simply disappear just because of Coors Field or the development that followed. In fact, since the early days of the LoDo renaissance, the homeless population has soared, according to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. It estimates that more than 12,000 homeless men, women and children across the seven-county metro area are homeless.

But Denver is not alone in struggling with this niche subculture. The city, like population centers everywhere, wrestles with ways to balance the needs of the majority with those of this minority or the many others without a voice.

“A city is measured by how it treats its weakest residents,” says Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez. “I understand the importance of making downtown a great downtown; I love being downtown and taking people downtown,” he says. “But the rest of the year, I think it’s important to invest in the neighborhoods.”

While not the only councilmember to speak out for the homeless, Lopez has been identified as, perhaps, the most strident voice for this group. He may have been the most vocal in opposition to the city’s controversial camping ordinance, which made it illegal to sleep on sidewalks or in public parks. The homeless and the powerless have, more than once, pitted the Denver native and youngest member of council against its more established bloc.

“It’s not just about downtown,” Lopez says in a call from a Florida council trip. “It is not an either/or situation.” Too fixed a focus on business and downtown, he says, means fewer resources going to others who deserve the attention but lack the clout of money and power.

Making Denver a destination for tourists is important for Lopez. He has formed alliances on council that have been responsible for improving the city from health care to tourism. He has also advocated for parks, libraries — he was perhaps council’s most outspoken supporter for naming the city’s newest library for the late Rudolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzales — and things as mundane as paved alleyways in his district.

But he recently bristled over a plan to allow the building of a new grocery store at 20th and Chestnut when his council district or other Denver communities reside in ‘food oases,’ places with few grocery options.

“Progress and success of one community should not require the stagnation of another,” Lopez says. “We need to make sure that everybody is represented and not base things on education, property values or demographics of the neighborhood.”

While their mission is aimed at bolstering downtown, DDP says its responsibility does not stop with its clients. DDP’s Starkey says it has an ambassador program that places people on the street aimed at helping those in need. DDP is also represented on a number of boards that have “raised millions for the homeless.”

The downtown Denver holiday experience kicks off in a matter of hours and continues through the New Year. Councilman Lopez says he will be visiting the city with family and friends over the next six weeks because he enjoys “sharing my city.” What he and others will be seeing is an extravaganza of sights and sounds — most of it choreographed by DDP — aimed at one thing: to showcase a great, but not perfect, Denver.





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