March 2: This story was updated with library branch reopenings.
An email sent Monday, Feb. 22, from Mayor Hancock’s office to members of City Council that was shared with Denverite indicated several major Denver venues might reopen soon, at larger capacity.
The email, sent by Hancock’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Skye Stuart, said the office was optimistic that indoor city-operated venues like the Colorado Convention Center and outdoor music venues like Red Rocks and Levitt would reopen soon, as long as COVID-19 metrics like caseloads, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccine rates remain on their current trajectory.
And reopening libraries and recreation centers will be discussed at a City Council committee meeting on March 18.
We’ve contacted the city agencies responsible for those venues to get a clearer idea of when and how things will start to reopen. Here’s what we know.
First, the numbers.
Currently, Denver is at “yellow” on the state’s COVID-19 dial. That means indoor arts facilities can operate at 50 percent capacity or with no more than 50 people standing or 150 people seated. Outdoor venues can operate at 50 percent capacity or with up to 175 people.
Based on the COVID-19 numbers the state follows, Denver is close to moving back on the dial, to level “blue,” which would ease even more restrictions. A small increase in cases this week stopped the state short of moving us to blue, according to Mayor Hancock, but we’re trending back down. We’d need to stay in the zone we’re in for another seven days for the state to move us into blue. If that happens, indoor venues could operate at 50 percent capacity or with up to 175 people. And outdoor venues can accommodate 50 percent of their capacity or up to 250 people.
Under yellow and blue restrictions, certain businesses in Denver can apply with the state of Colorado to operate at greater capacity.
Stuart wrote in her email that the mayor’s office submitted a request to the state to allow the Colorado Convention Center, Hyatt Regency and Sheraton Hotel to host meetings at their extra-large event spaces. It’s now up to the state to decide whether to grant that request.
Should Denver move to blue, other indoor venues, like performance centers, could accommodate more people. Large indoor venues could also request to operate at higher capacity.
Ginger White Brunetti, executive director of Denver Arts and Venues, the city agency that operates venues like Red Rocks and the Colorado Convention Center, said not many indoor venues will open under current restrictions.
“We could open our venues to those small capacities, but there’s not really an appetite for that,” Brunetti said.
Brunetti said indoor venues have to consider, among other things, public health and safety and union regulations.
Per the email, the city submitted a variance request last week to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) that would allow Elitch Gardens to operate this season at 18 percent capacity, or 3,500 people at any given time.
Agencies within the city are also working on proposals that would allow large outdoor performance spaces like Levitt Pavilion and Red Rocks to reopen to limited audiences this spring and summer. Level blue would mean these large venues, which can accommodate 7,500 and 9,525 guests, respectively, could each only host 250 audience members at a time, unless the dial restrictions change or the venues get a variance request approved.
This week, Brunetti said, Arts & Venues sent a Red Rocks variance request to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE), asking that the stage might open in April to approximately 2,500 people. If DDPHE approves, the request will move to the state for the final say.
Chris Zacher, executive director of Levitt Pavilion, said the nonprofit concert venue in southwest Denver hasn’t been able to reopen during the pandemic. He said it’s too expensive to stage events at current capacity, considering how large Levitt is.
“As a nonprofit who operates on slimmer margins, we couldn’t make the numbers work,” Zacher said.
On the morning of Feb. 25, Zacher got a call from the CDPHE with some good news: In the coming weeks — COVID metrics depending — guidelines would emerge that might allow Levitt to reopen starting in April, with increased capacity limitations throughout the summer. Zacher said CDPHE projected that, dependent on social distancing capabilities, events could operate at:
- 50 percent capacity on April 1 with 6 feet of distance per attendee
- 60 percent capacity on May 1 with 6 feet of distance per attendee
- A 75 percent to 80 percent cap starting July with either 3 feet of social distancing or no social distancing, depending on vaccination numbers.
“For anybody who’s doing outdoor events, it’s a lifesaver,” Zacher said.
He said that based on that phone call, Levitt will start booking shows and selling tickets. He said having that kind of foresight has been hard to come by during the pandemic, when things are so unpredictable.
“We needed this longevity outlook,” he said. “It was really good news”
Libraries as we know them have been closed during the pandemic, but City Council’s Budget and Police Committee will discuss reopening plans on March 18. In the meantime, the Denver Public Library will reopen nine branches March 9.
Erika Martinez, a spokesperson with Denver Public Library, said DPL has been working with DDPHE and the Mayor’s office to discuss how to open safely.
Additional branches are expected to reopen in early April.
A city spokesperson said that in the coming weeks, Denver will announce a phased reopening of some recreation center buildings this spring.
The creative and performance industries have suffered during COVID, and many industry workers have lost jobs.
“There are many employees that have been impacted by the fact that our venues are closed, whether they are a stagehand, whether they are people who work in our concessions, and our catering, security,” Brunetti said. “Often we think of the people on stage, and certainly our arts community has been greatly impacted. But there’s a lot of others that support all those activities that, unfortunately, have been hit just as hard.”
That impact ripples out into the community, into other industries in Denver, she said. Events draw crowds — and business — into downtown.
“When we have a vibrant convention business, or a vibrant arts complex business,” Brunetti said, “there are restaurants and hotels, and other businesses that reap the benefit of those activities, and that makes for an even more vibrant downtown” she said.
Zacher said that another reason to reopen venues is to quench a growing thirst for closeness and entertainment during the pandemic.
“We need to satisfy people’s desires to get out and connect with their community in more meaningful ways again,” he said. “People are tired of their four walls.”
Brunetti says venues offer a collective experience we’ve been missing for a long time.
“Gathering as a community, I think, is part of the reason why so many of us are in this business. We love bringing experiences to groups of people,” she said. “There is, I think, a joy that comes from that.”
This story originally misstated the timeline in which Denver rec centers would rollout a reopening plan. We regret the error (and fixed it!).