Denver mayor eyes expanding tax district to boost downtown economy

Mayor Mike Johnston, along with other city leaders, announced the expansion of the Strategic Funding Tool to restore vitality and economic opportunity throughout downtown Denver in front of Denver’s Union Station on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Photo by Hyung Chang/The Denver Post)

City leaders have focused on a strategy they hope can pull downtown Denver out of what Mayor Mike Johnston has called the region’s post-coronavirus “death cycle.”

The key to this strategy is expanding the arcane special taxing authority that played a major role in downtown’s last big boom.

Johnston and other city and business leaders stood in front of the dormant fountains outside Union Station Thursday morning to announce a plan they say could generate $500 million in public investment in downtown Denver over the next decade.

This approach builds on a strategic financing vehicle that helped transform Union Station from a completely abandoned bus station into an anchor for downtown Denver’s economic recovery in the 2000s. Specifically, the Johnston administration and its partners are intent on expanding the boundaries of the Denver Downtown Development Authority to cover the entire core of the city, including the long-struggling central business district.

Once expanded, this entity — created to pay off $400 million in public debt incurred for infrastructure around the station — will collect additional property taxes from participating businesses and property owners to support bonds that can be used to finance a range of economic development works and projects. Officials explained.

What kind of work? City residents will have the opportunity to comment on that question, Johnston said

“This campaign will start with a conversation with downtown residents,” Johnston said Thursday morning. “Starting today, we will be rolling out a website to the public where every Denver resident can express their hopes and dreams for what they want from their downtown.”

Residents can visit Denvergov.org/DDA For more information and to share their thoughts.

Johnston said a number of tools must be withdrawn before the plan can take effect.

The Denver City Council will have to take action on the plan. The mayor was flanked by Council Members Darrell Waston, Amanda Sandoval and Chris Hinds, whose district includes downtown. Johnston said they will lead the effort on the council’s part.

Johnston said the board that oversees the Downtown Development Authority would also have to approve the changes, as would the indigenous residents and businesses that voted to create the authority in its current footprint more than a decade ago.

Doug Tisdale He is president of the Downtown Development Authority, a position to which he was elected after being appointed to the board representing the Regional Transportation District. He sees the success of Union Station and the huge influx of private sector investment that followed Reopened a decade ago As a main sales area for the proposed expansion.

“There’s no reason why we can’t repeat what we did here somewhere else,” Tisdale said Thursday, gesturing toward the station.

Property owners in the proposed new footprint will not be obligated to pay the authority. They will choose that, Tisdale said.

Johnston explained the importance of downtown Denver from his perspective. He said it is not only an economic driver and major tax generator for the city as a whole, but for the entire state and the Rocky Mountain region. Its current situation — a 30% office vacancy rate as of the end of 2023 — is not unique to urban areas across the country, according to the mayor.

But reversing the trends is vital for the future.

“The coronavirus pandemic has left the city center deserted. Hybrid work environments have reduced demand for commercial office space. “Without the commercial revitalization and life that made them vibrant, abandoned downtown areas saw historic increases in homelessness and crime accelerated by a deadly wave of fentanyl addiction and massive commercial vacancies,” Johnston said, describing the “doom loop” he and other partners are seeking. to break.

But, he added, “Denver refuses to move away from downtown as a vibrant center of financial, cultural, social, sporting and artistic activities.”

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