City lawmakers on Tuesday got a glimpse at the 80-plus city projects to be paid for by a $450 million proposed bond package.
It’s up to Denver City Council to forward the general obligation bond package to voters for the November ballot. Right now, they’re reviewing the proposal submitted by the Department of Finance, which has been putting together a list of proposed projects based on feedback from the public, city agencies, city lawmakers and Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration.
What lawmakers saw on Tuesday is the final list of more than 80 projects, some of which include work in multiple parts of the city (such as safety and pedestrian improvements and sidewalk construction). That list was narrowed down from an initial list of 134 projects totaling $1.7 billion.
The reason the city wants to borrow money is due to the pandemic. City officials are framing the bond package as help with the city’s economic recovery by creating thousands of jobs. The city’s Chief Financial Officer Brendan Hanlon said the money is helping invest in people, not just projects themselves.
“What we’ve heard through our community outreach process is that we need a people-focused recovery,” Hanlon said. “This bond will do that.”
The money would be broken down into four sections including facilities, housing and shelter, transportation, and parks and recreation.
The city’s finance department estimates these general obligation bonds will generate 7,580 jobs, produce $483 million in wages for work completed on or connected to the projects, and $1 billion in economic output, which essentially means sales connected to projects once they’re completed. These figures are for the entire metro area, not just Denver, according to Department of Finance spokesperson Julie Smith.
So what are general obligation bonds again? Here’s a quick refresher.
Some of the projects that would be funded by the bond package and highlighted by the city include:
- A new library in Westwood ($13.9 million)
- A new library in Globeville ($12 million)
- A new mid-sized arena with a capacity of roughly 10,000, located at the National Western Center ($160 million)
- A park in University Hills ($5.5 million)
- Renovating the May Bonfils Stanton Theater at the Loretto Heights Campus ($30 million)
- Reconstruction of the Mestizo-Curtis pool ($6.1 million)
- Sidewalk construction ($12 million)
- Bike infrastructure implementation ($10 million)
The general obligation bonds would additionally help pay for numerous other improvements at multiple sites around the city-for playgrounds, park maintenance, restroom facilities and to improve shelter capacity for people experiencing homelessness.
While lawmakers didn’t take any action on the proposals, they did raise some concerns about the amount of money and what it’s paying for in the city.
Councilmember Candi CdeBaca said the people living in her district have concerns about the proposed arena. Hanlon said it will cost $210 million total to build, so the general obligation bonds would pay for a chunk of that, though it would also generate revenue.
However, CdeBaca questioned whether sufficient outreach had been done in neighborhoods in her district like Elyria Swansea, an area where people have been asking for projects that can benefit the people who live there. It’s where the National Western Center is being built.
She and other councilmembers said they have seen mailers asking residents to call councilmembers to ask that they support paying for the arena with the general obligation bonds.
“There’s a lot of things happening out of order here,” CdeBaca said.
Council President Stacie Gilmore said she’s concerned about how much money would be borrowed for the National Western Center project, which in addition to the arena would get $30 million to renovate the historic 1909 Stadium Building. Gilmore added she would like to see a proposal that considers jobs that aren’t simply hourly, but rather ones that are careers with benefits like sick time and retirement plans.
“Knowing that the arena is going to be an economic engine … we also need to invest in workforce development and to do that comprehensively and to do that in a way that we are not only creating jobs for today and even a few years down the road, but we’re also creating jobs that lead to careers,” Gilmore said.
Lawmakers will get a chance to formally vote on whether to send the bond measures to the full City Council for consideration during a committee meeting on Aug. 3.