Denver bond proposal for nearly $1 billion in infrastructure upgrades sails to early victory

Author: Jessica Machetta - November 8, 2017 - Updated: November 9, 2017

Denver’s Mayor Hancock on Tuesday evening, Nov 7. (Jessica Machetta, Colorado Politics)

A nearly $1 billion dollar bond proposal sailed to victory Tuesday night as Denver voters approved a finance package for infrastructure improvements throughout the city.

“From the very beginning, this has always been the people of Denver’s bond,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

The package represents what people want and need in their neighborhoods to keep “Denver the great city that we love,” he added.

The $937 million bond package was broken up into seven ballot questions that asked voters to bolster public safety; upgrade streets, bike lanes, and libraries; fund numerous cultural projects; and pay for a new health center.

Simon Crittle, spokesman for Our Denver, the main organization backing the measure, says voters won’t have to wait long to see their support for the proposal pay off.

“The city will hire an independent project management team to ensure construction projects are completed on time and on budget,” Crittle said. “The city’s finance department will then be expected to issue the first tranche of bonds next year. Many of the projects are shovel-ready.”

The population increase in Denver has slowed slightly in the past year — it’s at about 2 percent — but projections still show the city will reach 700,000 residents in the coming year. (It was at 600,158 in 2010, according to census reports.) With that growth comes a pressing need for infrastructure to keep up. This bond package will finance repairs and improvements to roads and bridges, police and fire stations, Denver Health, parks and recreation centers, libraries, zoos, museums and theaters.

“Community input on bond measures 2A through 2G came from thousands of residents who shared their ideas, suggestions and comments — the most public input of any bond proposal in our history,” Crittle said.

Hancock lauded residents for their participation in the process — some, he said, braving snowstorms to make their voices heard as the projects list was being compiled.

Projects with the highest price tag include a new Ambulatory Care Center overseen by the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, the bus rapid-transit project on East Colfax, structural improvements to the Central Library and its 10 branches throughout the city, a new Westwood rec center, and renovations to the Denver Art Museum’s North Building. The bond package will benefit more than 460 projects, large and small, whittled down from a wish list that totaled some $4 billion.

“We are particularly proud that neighborhoods in west Denver and northeast Denver, which have been underserved in the past, will benefit significantly,” Crittle said.

City Councilman Albus Brooks, who represents District 9, tells Colorado Politics that not a lot of cities are investing in their infrastructure, their poorest neighborhoods and mobility — and “we’re doing that here tonight.”

Brooks says Denver is not trying to be a car-centric city, and voters approving the measure by more than 70 percent shows him residents are embracing urbanism here. Some $415 million of the bond package is dedicated to mobility. He says providing alternative forms of transportation — walking, biking and taking the bus — will help alleviate Denver’s notorious traffic problems.

The new outpatient facility at Denver Health will increase capacity by up to 50 percent, he said. Nearly 300 miles of streets will be re-paved, easing congestion. And 50 miles of new bike lanes will lend to residents having alternative transportation choices. The new rapid-transit service along Colfax will make also that entertainment district more accessible.

“Repairs and improvements at the Zoo, the Botanic Gardens, the Museum of Nature & Science and the Art Museum; a new rec center in Westwood; repairs to 20 more rec centers; improvements to 47 parks; and upgrades at 11 public libraries … everyone in Denver will benefit,” Crittle said.

This is the first bond issue voters have approved since 2007, when they approved the $550 million Better Denver Bonds. City finance directors have determined this new package could be paid for using the same tax rate already in place, so the bond measure’s passage will not result in a tax increase.

Here’s how Denver voted on each portion of the bond proposal:

  • Transportation and mobility ($431 million) — 73 percent.
  • Parks and recreation ($151.6 million) — 71 percent.
  • Cultural facilities ($116.9 million) — 68 percent.
  • Public safety ($77 million) — 70 percent.
  • The Denver Health project ($75 million) — 67 percent.
  • Libraries ($69.3 million) — 70 percent.
  • Other public facilities ($16.5 million) — 66 percent.

Jessica Machetta