Denver, CO

Keep Civic Center Park the pride of Denver

David Heitz

(Photo of Greek Amphitheatre/Civic Center Conservancy)

By now you have may heard that the city of Denver is in the process of re-imagining Civic Center Park. It’s the first time the park will undergo a major renovation in 100 years.

And while some say the park needs to evolve to remain relevant in a new century, I’d argue it’s already everything a park is supposed to be.

It has even hosted Super Bowl victory parties.

A lot of people just want the homeless people out of the park. That’s not going to happen.

The park is where the same church feeds the homeless every day at noon. They also give communion.

Probably close to 100 homeless people line up at the park every day. The lunch includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, and water. And granola bars.

At least that’s what was for lunch when I was homeless and went to Civic Center Park. You can always count on this church being there, seven days a week, no matter what.

Homeless ‘take over’ Civic Center Park

The park became a tent city for a while. Homeless encampments sprouted from its lovely green lawnscape.

The park is stunning. The Greek Theater is one of a kind. It’s one of the coolest outdoor theaters I’ve ever seen as part of a public park. The fountain also is understated elegance.

(Photo of Civic Center Fountain/City of Denver website)

The greenspace at Civic Center Park is the front lawn of City Hall. It seems to me that homeless people on the front steps of City Hall is exactly where they should be.

Homelessness may very well be the most pressing issue facing Denver. Homelessness can spread like a cancer, and nobody wins when that happens. Instead of trying to shoo away a festering, lingering problem, the city needs to face it head on.

Redoing a park and throwing the homeless out (not that the city is planning to do that) isn’t going to stop homelessness from happening elsewhere in the city.

I have to say that I don’t think the tourists are as “afraid” of the homeless people as some would have us all think. When I first moved to Denver and had not yet rented an apartment, hotel staff downtown would say, “Avoid the homeless people in Civic Center Park, they’ve taken over.”

Park offers some peaceful moments

Never did I expect to become homeless, but I couldn’t wait to check out the situation at the park once I heard homeless people had “taken it over.”

Indeed, the park was filled with homeless people with carts, backpacks, suitcases. I talked to several people about why they became homeless and even handed out some $20 bills at Civic Center Park when I first moved to Denver.

Later, when I became homeless myself, I found myself at the park quite often. A good spot to relax was between the park and the library on the grass.

I also used to step into the park and sit on the benches in the mornings. I would get coffee at Cathedral Basilica homeless line at 8 a.m. Before heading up Capitol Hill I would sit in the park and feed the squirrels. My morning routine took me down Broadway each morning from Crossroads homeless shelter to Civic Center Park.

Park area reminds me of Monopoly board

Civic Center Park and the area around it reminds me of a Monopoly game board. You’ve got City Hall, the state capitol, the jail, a lovely park in the center, and the Denver Post newspaper building across the street with its flashing news ticker.

It’s just idyllic. You get a strong feel for Denver and its history, and indeed its beauty, while visiting Civic Center Park.

“Located at the heart of the city and surrounded by many of our key civic and cultural institutions, Civic Center has served as Denver’s most significant gathering spot for cultural events, festivals, and First Amendment rallies for over 100 years,” the city of Denver boasts on its website. “It is Denver’s first National Historic Landmark and honoring its history is critical as we envision its future.

“The project partners are working together to bring the 2005 park Master Plan to life by creating a vision for key features of Civic Center that will accommodate its traditional uses and also encourage daily active use.”

Make Greek theater interactive for all

I think it would be great if the Greek Theater had some sort of interactive feature. Maybe it could have stage lights and a camera, and a flat screen TV. It could be interactive. If a group of small children wanted to put on an impromptu play for their parents, they could perform on the stage with all the bells and whistles of a true theatrical experience.

Or the stage’s light and sound system could work great for informational community meetings. The idea being that the stage is used on a first-come first-served basis. If the stage is open, strut your stuff.

It would be impromptu live theater in the heart of Denver. Who knows, stars could be born.

Or you could get a lot of angry homeless people up there. You could end up having political rallies, live Nativity scenes at Christmas … the possibilities are endless.

Today, March 5, is the last day for completing a survey about what you would like to see in the park. You can complete the online survey by clicking here.

Civic Center’s future in good hands

The park’s renaissance will be shepherded by the Civic Center Conservancy, a non-profit group dedicated to the park’s future.

“A century ago, Civic Center was envisioned to become the civic and cultural heart of Denver,” the conservancy explains on its website. “Located today at the crossroads of government, culture, commerce and community, Civic Center is a 12-acre urban oasis anchoring one of the grandest architectural campuses in America. As Denver's only National Historic Landmark, Civic Center is one of the most complete and intact City Beautiful-era designs remaining today.”

“City Beautiful” was a philosophy a century ago in North America for making the nation’s greatest towns grand. The idea was to create active community spaces where Democracy could thrive.

“Create form and function will follow,” was the motto.

It’s a philosophy that should still guide park development today.

Nobody can accuse Denver of not seeking public input on the project. Several meetings have been held regarding the park’s redevelopment. City officials have pleaded for input.

If you missed the public meeting last month, you can watch a video of it here.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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