It’s been a long time coming.
On this sunny, windy Thursday morning, Denverites gathered outside the Cheesecake Factory on Larimer Street — not for the great food, but for the official groundbreaking of construction on the 16th Street Mall.
Since the kitschy tourist destination opened in 1982, the Mall has not received any major renovations to its crumbling, leaky pavers, which costs taxpayers $1 million a year to fix. But that drought is set to end.
“This was one of the first issues I heard of when I became mayor, that we got to get this done, and I’m so glad before I leave in 443 days, not that I’m counting, that we’re going to get this mall done,” Mayor Michael Hancock said at the groundbreaking. “This is not a project that is 10 years late. Ten years ago, we started the process of stacking the money so that we could do this project… and thankfully to the people of Denver today…who back in 2017 said ‘Yes’ to the Elevate Denver bond, we are going to break ground and renovate our 16th Street Mall.”
Talks of renovating the downtown strip began in 2010, and in 2019, the city received approval to move forward with the plans. As Hancock said, the city has worked for years, putting together the funding for the $149 million project. Funding came from the voter-approved Elevate Denver bond, the capital improvement budget, and state and federal grants. City Council approved the construction contract with PCL Construction Services in March 2021.
Construction will start on the westside at Market Street and work east toward Broadway. Completion is expected in 2024.
One of the major renovations will be to the granite pavers lining the strip. New pavers will be added to improve traction and drainage, but Hancock said the design will remain true to the original created by legendary architect I.M. Pei.
The project will also include moving transit lanes to the center and widening pedestrian walkways on the perimeter, while adding new amenity zones for leisure, local businesses, entertainment and tourism. The city also said it’ll be adding more trees to the mall.
Equipped with shovels decorated with paper trees, Hancock, along with Downtown Denver Partnership‘s new CEO Kourtny Garrett, Fred Worthen from RTD, DOTI Executive Director Adam Phipps, Community Planning and Development Executive Director Laura Aldrete, and Denver City Councilmember Chris Hinds, dug up some ceremonial gravel. Hancock encouraged Denverites to continue visiting the mall throughout its reconstruction.
Visitors can expect smaller walkways near storefronts and buildings. Construction will also cause the free RTD MallRide to detour around 15th and 17th streets.
Besides reconstruction, the city will also be supporting small businesses along the strip by allocating $1 million to the city’s 2022 budget “to ensure businesses thrive during the renovation.”
“[Construction is] anticipated to support more than 1,800 jobs, generate more than $155 million in income for workers and nearly $308 billion of sales for businesses and have a regional and economic impact of as much as $4 billion,” said Hancock.
Downtown has been a contentious topic of conversation for the mayor since the beginning of the year. At a downtown booster event last week, Hancock said downtown Denver wasn’t dead and “like a phoenix” it would “rise again.”
During Thursday’s groundbreaking event, a person begging to speak to the mayor was stopped by security. They shouted about mistreatment and called for “change.”
Hancock stopped speaking to hear what the person was saying and later asked the crowd to give them a round of applause stating, “We’re in this together.”
“The 16th Street Mall reconstruction is a key part of downtown’s comeback and will set the pace for Denver’s overall equitable and sustainable economic recovery,” Hancock said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified a city official. The error has been corrected.