DENVER — At an annual luncheon on the State of Downtown, city leaders painted a rosy picture of a post-pandemic downtown Denver.
“The demand for residential, that has not waned,” said Kortny Garrett, CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership who took the reins about six months ago.
The Downtown Denver Partnership said Thursday the city ranks second among best cities for recent college grads, and ninth in the nation in labor force growth among other major metro areas since the pandemic began.
But out on the street, workers paint a different picture.
“Nobody’s here,” said a woman named Marie who has worked downtown since the ‘90’s. “It feels sad and depressing and lonely, honestly.”
Reality is harsh out here.
“There are just a lot fewer people,” said another woman named Josie who works for Century Link. “The streets are just quiet. Not a lot of interaction.”
The daytime workforce certainly hasn’t returned. Downtown Denver Partnership data shows only 50% of office workers have returned since the pandemic began.
“The way we act and move and operate in the world has changed,” Marie said.
“They realize now, many employers, that they don’t have to pay the overhead,” Josie said.
In fact, the same report indicates only half the downtown workforce is back and downtown office vacancy is fourth highest in the country at 21%.
“When you lose 100,000 plus people in a matter of 24 hours, it’s going to impact your city,” Garrett said.
What Denver does have going for it is desirability and growth, which is outpacing most cities of similar size.
There are currently nearly $2 billion in projects under construction, and visitors have returned.
“I’m very impressed with Denver,” said Colby Lombard who was visiting from Atlanta for a conference.
“Restaurants are close-by, lots of hotels, cool history, too,” said Thomas Svegl who was traveling with Lombard. “The historical upkeep of buildings is really well-maintained, as well.”
“I’m just very surprised with how clean and well-kept it is,” Lombard said.
The question is – will the workforce follow these leisure travelers back to downtown? So far, they haven’t.
“I wouldn’t be here, but I promised my boss I’d come back 3 days a week,” Marie said. “The vibrancy is gone, the 16th Street Mall is not fun to be on at all.”