Denver, CO

Civic Center Park makeover inspires ideas from residents

David Heitz

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City of Denver

It’s Denver’s only national historic landmark and it hasn’t had a makeover in 100 years: Civic Center Park.

It’s now in the planning phases of a major redo. The city is in the process of seeking input from the public.

Here are 14 ideas for the park’s future from Denver residents.

1. Keep the park active daily. “The park does not always feel open or welcoming,” the city noted in its summary of focus group meetings. “New programs and improvements should activate the park throughout every day and every season.”

When special events aren’t going on at the park, it mostly is occupied by people experiencing homelessness. Drug use is rampant, and needles litter the ground. It is the elephant in the room when it comes to making the park more inviting to families and tourists.

Ideas: Keep the park ready for daily seasonal use with summer shade, winter lighting and perennial planting.

“Rotating programs such as summer lawn games or winter activities should celebrate the season,” the city explained in its meetings recap. “Consider attractions throughout park hours from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. For example, this could include a coffee cart for morning visitors, midday play spaces and evening light installations to lengthen park use.”

2. Honor the park’s history. All modifications to the park will be in step with Landmark Preservation Commission requirements.

3. Do something about restroom access. There is no restroom readily accessible at Civic Center Park. “This was a universal suggestion across focus groups, stakeholders and survey-takers – restrooms make Civic Center more accessible and enjoyable for all. Permanent or seasonal restroom options will be explored for the park.”

4. Keep the gardens. "The gardens are very important, colorful and soothing,” one member of the public commented. “Enhance and highlight them. Open green space with gardens is in short supply downtown."

5. Represent marginalized voices. The park does not feel open to people of color and people with disabilities, representatives of the focus group said. Efforts should be undertaken to change that. The summary document does not mention the homeless community as a marginalized group, even though they use the park more than any other population.

6. Give the Greek Theater more muscle. "I like the outdoor speaker/amplification idea but not on all the time; rather, built-in and available as infrastructure for events, protests, music performance or DJ, etc.,” said one person.

Other members of the public suggested going back to “Shakespeare in the Park” productions or having comedy nights, as well as a "Continued place for protests, rallies, and other political events."

7. Come up with some water features for the park. “Immersive water features are a summer comfort and an attraction for all ages, but they often lead to unnecessary water waste and exclude older community members with a focus on kids,” the city's recap explains. “The project team must be considerate of the scarcity of water in our climate with systems that limit water loss. Water elements must not be summer-only attractions and should be engaging all year round, whether water is on or off.”

One community member suggested "A large fountain right in the center. One that changes its display or has a special display on the hour. A good example is the public square in Cincinnati, Ohio."

8. Encourage mingling. Better lighting and signage will make the park more inviting, but the city also hopes to foster togetherness at the park. “New elements need to be located strategically to encourage social mixing (all ages, races/ ethnic groups, housing situations) to limit feelings of exclusion for any group,” the city explained in the meeting summary.

9. Keep areas of the park distinct by offering different features. “Each project area should have its own identity and vary time of activation for morning, daytime and evening use,” the city explains in the summary. “Activation hours should vary throughout the park, keeping the park active throughout the day with a wide variety of experiences.

“Special events (rallies, festivals and performances) should not shut down the entire park – everyday neighborhood gathering spaces should stay accessible, even when large-scale programs are happening nearby.”

10. Include art. Mix in new art with older pieces. That includes performance art as well as sculptures, murals, and street art. “The Master Plan focuses on opportunities for visual art within the central gathering feature, it may also be feasible along Bannock Street,” according to the meeting summary. “The Greek Theater is a place for performance art, this also may be feasible along Bannock Street.”

Many pieces of art were vandalized during recent protests. People have been asking about the artwork’s future.

“Between May and June 2020, many artworks in Civic Center Park and the surrounding areas were vandalized and have been subsequently restored,” the city explained in the summary document. “One sculpture was pulled down from its base in the late-night hours of Thursday, June 25, 2020.

"Denver Arts & Venues is currently in the process of evaluating the future of that sculpture as well as Pioneer Monument on the corner of Broadway and Colfax Avenue. A final determination will be made later this year.”

One community member suggested "Some unique art but should have some connection, no matter how oblique, to Colorado."

Another suggested “Indigenous sculpture and art projects, artists, writers, musicians from Denver or Colorado history, sculptures, art, information about Women in Colorado ‘herstory’ and also Chicano history and African Americans in Colorado history.”

Others envisioned "A labyrinth; attractive city bike stands; low-water native prairie grass plots; movable tables with chess boards or other games."

11. Include spaces for food and beverage service. “Food and beverage facilities for Bannock Street, the Greek Theater and the central gathering space, and central promenade were suggested,” according to the summary document. “We heard about an interest in more seasonal vending like Civic Center Eats.”

Another suggested a "Coffee shop or cart or some other draw for employed people to feel safe and have a reason to visit and linger."

12. Youth-centric activities and attractions. Members of the public said there is not enough of this downtown.

13. Pickle ball and tennis courts. Badminton and volleyball. “If people could reserve the courts for a small fee that could bring in some revenue too to help maintain the grounds,” a member of the public suggested.

14. Remake I.M. Pei's Zeckendorf Plaza pyramid. This would be “a nod to old Denver...." one community member suggested.

More community meetings will be held on the park's future this fall. Preferred concepts should be selected by next summer.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

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