Recent projects by the City and County of Denver are strategically changing the face of the Mile High City. The high-profile redevelopment of historic Denver Union Station, a $500-million expansion of Denver International Airport and hundreds of Better Denver Bond Program projects scattered across the city will transform its infrastructure and enhance curb appeal.
"If you look at Denver's history, you'll see that during dips in the economy (the city) always puts the heaviest foot on the gas pedal, getting the biggest work done during down times," says Mayor Michael Hancock.
This burst of energy continued during the recent recession; a $554-million bond initiative financed 318 new projects and generated millions of dollars for the local economy. It also produced up to 1,000 full-time jobs per year, based on statistics from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Associated General Contractors of America.
Approved by voters in 2007, the Better Denver Bond Program funded projects aimed at improving, preserving, renovating and building new roads, libraries, parks, hospitals, public safety facilities, cultural facilities and more.
Perhaps most important, the city committed to delivering the projects in record time so that most were started or completed between 2008 and 2011.
The city also has other initiatives planned or under way to boost the local economy.
In February, the mayor's office launched DevelopDENVER to better support builders by speeding up development. "We have a very proactive strategic economic development plan in Denver," Hancock says. "It creates for developers a reliable system of innovative approaches to streamlining projects, strengthening customer service and improving collaboration."
For example, an online queuing option will allow people to "get in line" electronically for permit reviews and approvals instead of spending hours waiting in line downtown. Eventually, complete plans can be filed online, whether for a small kitchen renovation or a multimillion commercial construction project.
"We're very excited about Denver going forward .… [The city] should be a promoter, not a barrier to the development process," Hancock says. The city's future depends on getting key infrastructure projects completed as quickly as possible so that transit-oriented development will follow, he adds.
Union Station Redevelopment
In the heart of the city's lower downtown neighborhood, the $500-million redevelopment of historic Denver Union Station (DUS) has brought together various groups in an innovative public-private partnership to create the DUS Project Authority. Together, the Colorado Dept. of Transportation, Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD), the Denver Regional Council of Governments and the City and County of Denver are combining public transit expansion with private development to create a new multimodal transportation district and a hub for commercial activity in the region.
Included in the project are three RTD FasTracks light rail lines, commuter rail lines, a 22-bay underground regional bus facility and an extension of the 16th Street Mall shuttle to serve the new commuter rail platform. A series of landscaped public spaces will tie the transformed DUS site together while connecting it to the surrounding neighborhood. The project will also transform the interior of the train station into a full-service hotel with new retail shops and restaurants.
Funding for the project includes federal, state and local grants, along with Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act and Railroad Infrastructure Finance loans to be repaid over 30 years from RTD taxes and city tax revenue. RTD FasTracks spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas says Denver Union Station is the first public-private project in the U.S. to utilize a combination of these federal loans.
Currently under construction by general contractor Kiewit, the DUS transit elements are about 60% finished and on schedule for a spring 2014 completion.
Twenty-three miles northeast of Union Station, the city recently broke ground on another cutting-edge transportation upgrade. The South Terminal Redevelopment Program (STRP) at Denver International Airport is a $500-million collection of independent but integrated projects centered around a new public transportation center to be built on the south end of the existing DIA terminal. It will include a new, highly anticipated commuter rail line connecting the airport to downtown Denver.