Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is championing a package of city bond proposals on the fall ballot — without a tax hike — as a key factor in the Mile High City’s recovery from the COVID economy. Questions 2A through 2E seek voter approval to borrow $450 million for critical infrastructure city-wide. The investment, as touted, will create over 7,000 jobs and have $1 billion in economic impact on the Denver metro area and likely beyond.
What’s more, the centerpiece of the bond package — $190 million for a new arena and major renovations at north Denver’s historic National Western Center complex — will reinvigorate the surrounding, economically struggling neighborhoods in that part of the city. Importantly, it also will update and enhance a landmark facility that connects Colorado to its agricultural heritage — as well as to the agricultural economy that sustains us all to this day.
“2A through 2E are critically important for us,” Hancock told us this week as he reviewed the package for The Gazette editorial board. He made a compelling case.
We agree with the mayor, for the most part, and we support the bond package with one exception.
We urge a YES vote for Questions 2A, 2C, 2D and 2E.
We urge a NO vote only on 2B. It’s an expenditure of nearly $40 million on serving the homeless — in a metro area that already spends close to half a billion dollars a year on that population with, at best, mixed results. Before throwing even more money at the problem, Denver first needs to rethink how it serves the homeless.
The rest of the bond package makes sense — with some caveats — and can be repaid out of current revenue levels anticipated in the years to come. So, no need to hound taxpayers for more. And Denver’s bond rating is sound, which keeps the cost of borrowing in check.
Here’s more detail on what Denverites will be investing in — and a recap of where we stand on each of the bond issues:
2A: Vote YES. $104 million for repairs and improvements, including at the Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Bonfils Theater Complex and the Denver Zoo. The slated May Bonfils Stanton theater at Loretto Heights will give southwest Denver a much-needed performing-arts venue. The list of projects also includes two new libraries and the renovation of a city-owned youth center. The bond issue will fund accessibility upgrades for city buildings and more. They are cultural and recreational amenities that improve Denver’s all-around quality of life in ways great and small — and make a daily difference in individual lives.
2B: Vote NO. We asked the following questions not long ago: Is Colorado reaching a point of diminishing returns on the dollars it spends on homeless services? Does it make sense to spend even more serving the homeless? As to that second question — the answer must be no, not at present; not until we figure out what we are getting for the considerable resources we do bring to bear on this stubborn syndrome that afflicts not only the homeless themselves but also the community that tries to help them. 2B would spend an additional $38.6 million on housing and shelter projects, including acquiring a building the city already leases for use as a shelter. Yet, Colorado’s Common Sense Institute recently released a report tallying the total public and private dollars spent serving the homeless in the metro area, and it turned out to be just shy of a stunning half billion dollars a year. That’s $41,613 to $104,038 per homeless person in Denver based on a homeless population numbering anywhere from around 4,000 to over 10,000. Particularly when it comes to the chronically homeless on the city’s streets, is there any sign of progress? Denver cannot justify spending more; let’s hit the reset button and regroup.
2C: Vote YES. $63.3 million for transportation projects like expanding Denver’s sidewalks; renovating bike lanes and adding new ones. The bond also will fund rebuilding some of the Morrison Road corridor. A warning to the city, though: The public’s patience is wearing thin with bike lanes designed as if they were intended to bottleneck motor-vehicle traffic. Let’s leave room for both bikes and cars.
2D: Vote YES. This bond provides some $54 million for parks projects in northeast and south Denver as well as wide-ranging upgrades to park facilities. We all cherish our parks.
2E: Vote YES. The National Western project comprises the biggest portion of the bond package and helps define it. For generations, it has been a central venue for Denver-area events. The drafty old Coliseum is simply inadequate and badly in need of replacement by the planned arena. The new arena will serve as a year-round center for a projected 200 events a year. That amounts to a revenue multiplier for the entire community and especially adjacent neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the renovation of the 1909 Building into a public market will bring new dining options to an area starved for them. It will be a new beginning for National Western.
Stay tuned for our take on the rest of Denver’s municipal ballot over the next several days. We will publish a summary of our stands on state and local ballot issues on Tuesday, Oct. 19.