Denver’s mayor wants to put $400 million bond measure for COVID-19 recovery on November ballot

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock wants another influx of spending to reinvigorate the city post-pandemic and create 40,000 jobs by the end of 2022. To do that, he plans to propose a $400 million bond measure.

The mayor and other city officials didn’t have many details about the measure — other than it’s for infrastructure and job creation — during a Wednesday news conference. Hancock did say the rest of the city’s recovery efforts will aim to spread money around equitably to Denver’s residents and businesses.

“Infrastructure needs to be more than roads and bridges and buildings,” Hancock said. “As we recover from COVID-19, we must recover in a way that addresses fundamental changes in equity, workplace training and jobs for the future.”

Hancock’s administration said the economic aspect is one of three key priorities moving forward, though details on plans for the other priorities — public safety and helping people experiencing homelessness — are reportedly forthcoming.

Instead, the main focus Wednesday was that Hancock will ask City Council members to vote to put the bond measure on the November ballot, and will talk to residents about what projects the borrowed money should pay for. Eulois Cleckley, executive director of Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, and other heads of city agencies declined Wednesday to say what projects they want.

Bonding is tried and true, and helped Denver recover from the Great Recession better than other U.S. cities, said Eric Hiraga, executive director of Denver’s Office of Economic Development. He also pointed to upcoming and existing projects like the expansion of both the Denver Convention Center and the National Western Center, the reconstruction of the 16th Street Mall and the final stages of renovation at Denver International Airport’s Great Hall.

Those projects, plus Hancock’s $400 million proposal and state and federal aid all are considered in the city’s larger Rebuilding for an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy (RISE) Plan, Hiraga said.

Denver still isn’t sure how much money it’ll get from the federal government during the second wave of stimulus spending, which is expected to land in May. The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Brendan Hanlon, said it could be as low as $140 million or as high as $311 million.

City officials could use that money to backfill some of Denver’s estimated $190 million budget shortfall for this year and rebuild the reserves it used during the pandemic. Hancock also noted that incoming federal money could be used to restore city services that had been cut, expand internet coverage and help local businesses.

Hiraga hopes to create jobs, help small businesses, offer grants to neighborhood organizations focused on arts and culture and give more city contracts to businesses owned by women and people of color.

The first round of federal money — $127 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act — mostly went to economic recovery, emergency shelters for the homeless and general citywide operations like payroll expenses.

Restaurants still looking to recover from the pandemic will likely get an assist from the city, too, through the extension of a program that lets them expand patios, said Ashley Kilroy, director of Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses. That will continue through October 2022.

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