Our 18 wishes—ranging from realistic to far-fetched—for making Denver an even dreamier place to live.
We love Denver. There are killer bars and top-notch restaurants, our neighbors are friendly, and the snow melts before we have to worry about driving in it. But no place is perfect, right? Which made us think: If we could change a few things around the Mile High City, what would we request? Here, our 18 wishes—ranging from realistic to far-fetched—for making Denver an even dreamier place to live.
A 16th Street Mall we can be excited about
The 5280 offices sit just off the 16th Street Mall in LoDo, so perhaps few people better understand the merits and shortcomings of downtown’s main drag. In recent years, an influx of restaurants and construction at Union Station have made the west end more respectable. Construction on a high-rise office/apartment building with street-level retail near Market Street Station will extend the mini renaissance slightly farther east. But unless we’re catching a movie at the Pavilions, we rarely travel past Arapahoe. Why? Because the city’s central promenade needs a serious face-lift, one that will transform the 16-block missed opportunity into something we can be proud of. We took a five-block section and gave it an imaginary overhaul.
The New 16th Street Mall 1. Shoe store 2. Dress shop 3. Menswear boutique 4. Kids’ clothing store 5. Independent sports bar 6. Power breakfast spot 7. Apple Store 8. Colorado Limited cart 9. In-N-Out Burger 10. Argonaut Wine & Liquor 11. Garbanzo’s Mediterranean Grill 12. Roasted nut cart 13. Trompeau Bakery 14. Modmarket 15. Sports Authority 16. Microbrewery 17. Soupz On 18. Additional food carts 19. Newsstand 20. Seating for outdoor dining 21. Masterpiece Delicatessen 22. Yoga studio 23. Drop-in day care 24. Revolution Cleaners 25. Boutique hotel above Rock Bottom Brewery 26. Nordstrom Rack 27. An affordable salon 28. Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cuisine 29. Whole Foods deli 30. CityTarget 31. Boxcar Coffee Roasters 32. Tailor 33. U.S. post office
Better downtown parking options
Problem: Overnight lots force you to move your car by 6 a.m.
Solution: Change the kick-out time to 8 a.m. because, unless you’re a trash collector or headed up to the mountains for a powder day, you probably aren’t up that early. Parking lot operators take note: We’d be willing to pay an extra buck for the more humane wake-up call.
Problem: Surface lots are eyesores with too few spaces to make them worth it.
Solution: Build architecturally interesting parking garages—preferably with aesthetically pleasing retail space on the ground level—on those sites. This would make LoDo even more bike- and pedestrian-friendly by moving cars off the street and reducing the number of cars going ’round and ’round in search of a spot.
Problem: Two-hour meters are just too damn short. It stresses us out to watch the clock during meetings, only to rush outside and find a yellow envelope stuck in our windshield.&
Solution: This is a transparent cash-grab by the city, and it sucks. Perhaps in some areas we could consider upping the time limit to four hours.
The Radical Idea
Ban all motorized vehicles other than taxis, buses, and delivery trucks from the city center, expand the 16th Street MallRide and light rail in several directions—such as along Speer Boulevard and toward Capitol Hill, RiNo, and LoHi—and erect ample parking garages around the perimeter so people can drive, park, and walk or ride to their downtown destinations.
Drive times that make sense
From perpetual construction on I-70 (and I-25 and U.S. 36 and I-225…) to frustratingly inconsistent routes within the metro area (it often takes longer to get from Park Hill to Wash Park than from Park Hill to Broomfield), driving around Denver seems unreasonably unpredictable. To make sure it wasn’t all in our heads, we traveled six routes to Union Station from the same location in Park Hill at 8 a.m. Which one was the quickest?
Green lights everywhere you look
You know that rare sensation of flying you get when you’re driving and you hit green light after green light? It’s like an open invitation to wherever you’re going. More often, though, we experience the infuriating opposite as we drive along any of the city’s main arteries. Every motorist thinks he or she has a strategy (speeding up, cutting you off) for beating the system, but Matt Wager, director of traffic engineering services in Denver’s Department of Public Works, says those efforts hinder rather than help. Here, his three tips for a smoother trip.
Follow the herd: Traffic lights are set up to keep the traffic flowing into downtown in the morning and out of the city in the evening. Don’t fight the natural flow if you can help it.
Know areas to avoid: Using roads with a lot of busy intersections (think: Colfax) lessens your chances of stacking up greens. Why? The side streets are outfitted with light-changing technology that disrupts traffic on the main artery to let cars and bikes cross.
Don’t speed: Traffic signals are timed to allow cars to move through a handful of greens before being stopped. The programming only works if you go the speed limit. Blow through one red to save time, and you’ll likely get stopped at the next one.
More integrated neighborhoods
I’m about as pasty white as you can be (thanks, Irish ancestors). And I grew up in North Dakota, one of the least racially diverse areas in the country. But then I lived in New York City, and I traveled, and I fell in love with a more diverse world that didn’t reflect my skin tone or my cultural background. The genetic and social palettes were full of color, and I found that diversity to be beautiful.
When I moved to Denver that full spectrum disappeared from my life—or so I thought. In reality, the problem is that the Mile High City is segregated. Yes, it’s a loaded word—but it’s regrettably accurate. Denver County boasts a population that’s 31.8 percent Hispanic (the national average is 16.3 percent) and 10.2 percent African-American (it’s 12.6 percent nationwide), but driving through neighborhoods like Wash Park and Cherry Creek, you’d never know it. Look at a map of Denver’s racial demographics and it’s easy to see the insulation. Metro Denver: primarily Caucasian. But take a turn into the northern reaches of Park Hill and you’ll find a Hispanic and black populace. Cruise down Federal Boulevard and you’ll see largely Hispanic neighborhoods. Suddenly, you gain a very different perspective of what Denver looks like. Our city isn’t without diversity—we’ve just cloistered it.
There isn’t a magic solution to this problem. And it’s difficult to talk about the causes—poverty, education, class, to name just a few—but it’s time to start a conversation, which is a good place to begin solving almost any problem. In the meantime, get outside of your neighborhood and experience all the diverse characters Denver has to offer. —NG
We'd like to start the much-needed conversation about diversifying our neighborhoods here. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
A more varied food scene within Denver city limits
We’re Starving For…
Good Chinese takeout. We can think of exactly one excellent Chinese spot: Chef Liu’s Authentic Chinese Cuisine—touted as Denver’s best by Top Chef (and Denverite) Travis Masar—and it’s all the way out in Aurora, which kind of defeats the purpose of quick and easy food to-go. It’d be great if, along with some new Chinese spots, some of our wonderful Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean places, many of which are dotted along Federal or in Aurora, could establish more central satellite operations.
More old-school Italian. We love the handful of red-checkered-tablecloth restaurants (Patsy’s, Saucy Noodle), but we sure miss the more varied options we had before Mikey’s and Pagliacci’s closed.
Locally made sake. We’ve got (arguably) one of the best sushi spots in the country (Sushi Den), and we make everything else with an ABV, so why not sake? (Denver’s last sake venture, Hakushika, moved back to Japan in 2000.)
Real NYC bagels. It’s a serious breakfast-time bummer that Denver bakers can’t perfect these boiled rings of dough. Noted exception: Rosenberg’s bagels, which are sold at Gather. Rosenberg’s owner, Josh Pollack, makes dough and boils his bagels in H²0 with a mineral content similar to that of New York’s.
Intimate dining spaces. We long for more cozy restaurant options—warm, intimate places with fewer than 40 tables where you’re not just a recipient of the meal, but also a part of the process (or, at least, you can’t help but see it).
Local salumiere. When renowned salumiere Mark DeNittis’ Salumeria Cinque Soldi (and Il Mondo Vecchio) was still running, we could walk in and pick up cured meat. Not anymore—and it’s a glaring omission in one of the country’s livestock capitals. Now, the only way to get your fix is at Luca D’Italia, aka no buying to take home. (That salumi program will soon expand to Frank Bonanno’s other restaurants when his newest spot, Salt & Grinder, opens.)
Semipermanent food cart pods. Part of the purpose of a food cart is convenience. And it’s not convenient to have to chase tasty treats like Quiero Arepas and Manna from Heaven around via social media. A city ordinance prevents food trucks from setting up in areas on a semipermanent basis (meaning they have to pack up daily), which is not only annoying for wannabe diners, but also prevents purveyors from doing things like smoking their own meats. Let’s ditch the restriction.
To be known for something other than the Denver omelet
Geographic areas are often associated with certain foods—New York–style pizza, San Francisco sourdough, Texas toast. And though Denver’s food scene has made remarkable strides in the past decade, we’re still known nationwide for two atrocious dishes: the Denver omelet and Rocky Mountain oysters. We doubt we’ll ever rid ourselves of these blunders, but we think a rebranding campaign is in order. So we took it upon ourselves to develop a handful of dishes we think show off our culinary chops—and Colorado’s homegrown ingredients—more appropriately.
Food and booze one-stop shopping
This seems like a no-brainer request, but it could be a “careful-what-you-wish-for” scenario. We break it down.
PRO » Forty-five states have already determined that selling beer and wine (and, in some cases, liquor) in grocery stores is no big whoop. Yet Colorado clings to antiquated liquor laws. Why? Some say the stores can’t sell full-strength booze safely. Others believe increased big-box availability will put mom-and-pop liquor shops out of business. I'm not buying it. Thanks to an obscure provision in state law—chain businesses with a pharmacy can sell full-strength beer, wine, and liquor at one Colorado location—there are a few test cases, and things seem to be going fine. The SuperTarget at Colorado and Alameda sells regular hooch. There’s a local City Wine across the street—and at least seven liquor stores within a mile—and they’re all still in business. Plus, extra competition could drive down prices. And what’s more convenient than picking up a sixer when you’re on a milk run?
CON » Convenience. That’s the reason most people give when arguing that grocery stores should carry booze. But there’s a lot more to explore. Like freedom of choice. Bringing spirits to grocery store shelves means letting the supermarkets (aka gigantic out-of-state corporations) determine which bottles are sold. The result: homogenization. Furthermore, in a growing market that is quickly becoming more educated about wine, “[This move] would squelch curiosity,” says Ashley Vaughters, sommelier and wine buyer for Denver’s Mistral Wine Co. Without interest, there’s little demand for more special labels. As for the customers who pledge to still seek them out? Alex Kayir with Infinite Monkey Theorem says, “In theory, those wanting something more high-end or boutique will go elsewhere. But in practice, when it’s about convenience, they’re not going to make a special trip.” —AMF
Budget-friendly accommodations in our hippest neighborhoods
Although I love playing tour guide for friends and family, my patience wears thin on day five of them crashing on my couch. But the alternatives—asking them to spend $150 or more nightly for a hotel downtown; commute from the more affordable lodging clusters near DIA or the DTC (where rooms average a more wallet-friendly $75 per night); or sleep across the street from Shotgun Willie’s in Glendale (as my parents did for $100 per night on a recent trip)—make me feel like a lousy host. Sure, there’s sightseeing to be done, but my city is one of walkable urban neighborhoods—Highland, Wash Park, City Park, RiNo—and that’s the Denver I want my guests to experience.
However, a glance at the current distribution of the Mile High City’s hotel rooms (around 8,500 downtown) shows glaring lodging voids—especially rooms under $150—in those trendy locales. According to Visit Denver communications director Rich Grant, the reasons are varied: hotels needing weekday bookings to survive (i.e., business and convention travelers), the relatively recent rise of these residential areas, and lack of easy transit options from these pockets to tourist attractions.
While I’d like to see more geographically varied options that wouldn’t cost an entire paycheck—and that would get guests off my couch—local hospitality industry consultant Robert Benton says it’s not likely to happen in the near future: “In some of the bigger cities, like New York City or San Francisco, they have more established neighborhoods where hotels were built years ago and were woven into the fabric of the neighborhood.” Those properties just don’t exist in Denver, and, according to Benton, demand from typical tourists—not people visiting their daughters—for that kind of experience is still too low. For now, I think I’ll invest in a nice air mattress. —JF
Lose the glossy corporate names on our stadiums
We like to think of Denver as a down-to-earth, genuine city. But the names of our sports stadiums? Not so much. (Yes, Coors Field is corporate, but it’s cool, so we’ll let it slide.) Starting everything with “Mile High” would be overkill, but we need a little more character. If we had naming rights, here’s what we’d do:
Sports Authority Field at Mile High » Mile High Stadium
We were thankful for the venue revamp in 2001, but we still can’t get over the name change that happened when Invesco came on board. Mile High Stadium just had that old-school ring—like Fenway Park—that our newer monikers sorely lack.
Pepsi Center » Denver Coliseum
We get it: The Nuggets and the Avalanche needed an updated place to play. But “the Coliseum” just sounds so much more intimidating.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park » Centennial Park
As far as corporate sponsors go, Dick’s isn’t the worst of the bunch, but the name is just too drawn-out (and don’t get us started on the nickname “the Dick”). Instead, something like Centennial Park imparts that Colorado vibe we want for all our professional teams.
A swimming hole we actually want to dive into
Don’t let the colorful flotilla of kayaks, SUPs, and waders at Confluence Park fool you: Technically, you’re not supposed to swim in the South Platte except in areas designated as safe for swimming by the Department of Environmental Health—which currently number zero. The reasons: Besides the 600 cubic yards of waste Urban Drainage pulled out of the river in 2012, the South Platte also contains unsafe levels of E. coli, which naturally spikes in the summer months—just in time for bathing suit season. Yes, the city has been working to improve its signature river, but if we really want to make the South Platte somewhere we can splash, everyone has to chip in by disposing of waste properly and picking up after pets. Then we could safely enjoy this Confluence Park oasis we’ve dreamed up (illustrated below), complete with affordable kayak/tube/SUP rentals, public chaises, food carts (including Little Man Ice Cream and Lucky Pie Pizza), a stage for live bands with free (!) Friday evening performances, and an adults-only VIP area away from the rowdy kids. We’re pretty sure it’s what Denver’s urban planners originally had in mind.
Not into swimming in rivers? We have one more wish for the landlocked but water-obsessed:
An adults-only (read: pee-free) swimming pool downtown
What better spot to take a dip than atop the tallest building (56 stories) in Denver? Our pitch: Transform the rooftop of Republic Plaza into a no-kids-allowed pool with a to-die-for view. Some other amenities we wouldn't mind:
- Infinity soaking pool with a swim-up bar
- A separate splash-acceptable pool with water toys like a volleyball net and beach balls
- Frozen margarita machine courtesy of Marg’s Taco Bistro
- Evening float-in movies projected onto a pop-up screen
- Free library of books and magazines you can borrow while you’re there
- Floating beer koozies
- Snack bar with local goodies like Tuffy Kickshaw’s popcorn, Jackson’s Honest Potato Chips, treats from Maria Empanada, and more
- A kids’ pool on the ground floor with daycare and the Missy Franklin Swim School, so Mom and Dad can indulge on the roof guilt-free
A tidier Wash Park
We’re super jazzed about the money being put into Wash Park—$880,000 for improvements along the diagonal road, $340,000 for a new southern entrance, and an upcoming $18,000 construction project on a tennis court shelter—but we wish more dough were being spent on everyday maintenance. For the past half year or longer, we’ve noticed an unpleasant uptick in the amount of discarded plastic bottles littering the ground, weird objects like orange traffic cones sticking out of Grasmere Lake, and overflowing trash bins along the running paths. We realize that keeping Denver’s most popular city park clean is an epic undertaking, considering estimates put annual visitors in the millions and the park shares a maintenance budget and staff with about 70 other parks. But as taxpayers—the park’s budget comes from the general fund—we’re concerned: There’s got to be a better way to manage the refuse. After all, it doesn’t matter how nice the new picnic areas are if there’s trash everywhere. But let’s not throw all of this on Parks and Rec. Denverites: Please pick up after yourselves.
Monetary support for our soccer team
Even after winning a Major League Soccer championship. Even after signing phenom Gabriel Torres from Panama. Even after producing a Rookie of the Year (and runner-up) last year. Even after all that, the Colorado Rapids are still the only MLS team to have never had a shirt sponsor (the big name on the front of almost every other jersey).
Part of the trouble is that Colorado’s sports market is just too good. The team has to “share the wallet” with other pro teams, explains Rapids’ president Tim Hinchey. In the past two years, the Rapids have made at least 18 presentations to companies—many Colorado-based—for a sponsorship (the league average is $1.5 million annually). They’ve gotten as far as a handshake deal, which fell through. No, the Rapids don’t offer Super Bowl–like viewership, but the chance to put your business’ name on a jersey that’s seen in 19 cities, for 34 90-minute games without commercials each season, seems like a win-win media buy. So, Colorado, who’s going to step up?
Trophy cases overflowing with championship hardware
For a self-proclaimed sports-obsessed town, we don’t have that many championship banners flying in our rafters. But something feels different this year. Perhaps it’s because Peyton Manning is finally used to the cold, because Patrick Roy is behind the bench, or because, well, it’s just time. Below, we take a look at some of our top contenders’ chances of making the metaphorical podium in 2014—and whether Denverites will actually care.
A bona fide college football program in Colorado
With Saint Manning in town, it’s difficult to complain about the level of play on Colorado’s gridirons; however, I think even he would agree the collegiate action here leaves something to be desired.
Like the Broncos’ vaunted QB, I grew up in the South, where the pageantry surrounding NCAA football makes the NFL look like a two-bit beauty queen. In fact, Manning became a legend-in-the-making in front of 102,854 screaming Volunteers in Knoxville—26,729 more fans than Sports Authority Field holds. The largest collegiate football stadium in the Centennial State? University of Colorado Boulder’s paltry 53,613-seat Folsom Field.
I know the arguments against big-time college football. The money, the scandal, the de-emphasis of academics. I get it. The problem is neither CU nor Colorado State University has shied away from the pursuit of becoming an elite program. CU jumped at the chance to join the Pac-12, another huge-money conference, and has replaced three head coaches since 2005 in an attempt to bring some swagger (and wins) back to the flailing Buffaloes. CSU recently paid $1.5 million to lure Jim McElwain away from the University of Alabama, one of the most storied programs in the history of college football, and is building a new $200 million on-campus stadium to bring attention to its football team. So if we’re pouring resources and money and brainpower into coaches and stadiums and recruiting, why can’t we get a solid product on the turf? I’m not asking for conference titles or Heisman Trophies; I’m just in the market for a few winning seasons strung together. And if and when that happens, I’m also looking for a little enthusiasm from the schools’ so-called fan bases. I’ve been to games at both CSU and CU—in winning seasons, no less—and the fan turnout (and tailgating prowess) is straight-up lousy. For as much as we all seem to love and support the pigskin on Sunday, I can’t figure out why we completely disregard it on Saturday. —LBK