Residents to vote on five bond packages

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Denver City Council recently approved referring five General Obligation Bond packages to the voters. The proposals ask voters to invest in economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The packages are estimated to create 7,500 good-paying jobs, $483 million in worker wages and benefits, and $11 billion in economic benefits for the city. The packages fund more than 80 projects across the city.

The five measures are:

• $190 million for the National Western Center campus for a new mid-sized arena to support year-round events and year-round jobs. It also will renovate the historic 1909 Stadium Arena building for use as a public market to provide food access in the neighborhood and create space for neighborhood businesses.

• $104 million to create new community assets and preserve beloved existing community assets. This includes making critical improvements to ensure community assets are accessible to all residents, building two new libraries and expanding an existing library in unserved and under-served neighborhoods, and creating a new youth empowerment center.

• $63 million for 46 projects to address transportation safety in neighborhoods, address six miles of sidewalk gaps, design and construct the first part of The 5280 Trail and create 16 miles of new bike lanes.

• $54 million to improve existing, and build new, playgrounds, athletic fields, a public pool and public restrooms.

• $39 million for housing and sheltering facilities serving people experiencing homelessness.

I supported placing all five measures on the ballot.

The funding to complete the National Western Center campus was, perhaps, the most controversial. In 2016, Denver voters approved funding for Phase I of a new campus at the site of the National Western Stock Show. The vision, supported by the voters, called for a new arena to host year-round events and rehabilitation of the 1909 Stadium Arena. Unfortunately, funding for these projects fell through when the COVID-19 pandemic hit our economy. I believe it is imperative that these facilities be completed so we can fulfill the vision endorsed by voters and the commitments made to the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.

Prior to voting for the package, I asked Mayor Michael Hancock and City Council President Stacie Gilmore to sign a document that explicitly outlines the commitments made to the community during the past five years as we worked to bring the campus to life. The resulting document — the Joint Executive Summary and Legislative Report on Equity Components of the 2021 RISE GO Bond — incorporates the commitments made by the National Western Authority and the city to Globeville and Elyria-Swansea residents. The commitments are based on resident input from numerous sources such as neighborhood organizations, neighborhood plan meetings, city meetings to receive input on the campus design/programming, parent meetings, input from people representing organizations working in the communities, and the results of a 2019 series of meetings that specifically discussed the Community Investment Fund. The 2019 meetings involved more than 65 residents and local businesses.

The final document incorporates long-discussed items, as well as more recent asks from the community such as the robust, community-based planning process for The Triangle area. The Triangle area is a large piece of land located adjacent to the campus that is slated for redevelopment.

The first step towards fulfilling our commitment to Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods is to complete the vision of the campus by constructing the new arena and rehabilitating the 1909 Stadium Arena. The arena will provide revenue to the Community Investment Fund. Without an arena to host events year-round, funding for the Community Investment Fund will be meager, primarily based on a once-a-year stock sow.

The Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods are a food desert. Access to fresh affordable food is a long-standing community goal. The rehabilitation of the 1909 Stadium Arena into a public market will fulfill this goal. It will also provide opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

Many of the improvements envisioned by the planning processes have become reality. Colorado State University will open the first of its three buildings on the campus in January. The hydra building, being built in partnership with Denver Water, will provide a new, expanded water quality lab and be a research and education center to find solutions to water challenges. The Stockyard Event Center will open this summer to host lectures, seminars, live music, conventions and other gatherings when it opens in January.

While this is exciting and important, leaving the campus incomplete will break the promise to the neighbors that this campus would serve them. Frankly, I was concerned when the first phase of the campus did not include funding for the 1909 Stadium Arena. My vote in support of placing this issue before the voters was a vote to meet our obligation to this community.

Deborah “Debbie” Ortega is an at-large member of Denver City Council. She can be reached at ortegaatlarge@denvergov.org.

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