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Mask mandates, downtown rebound, homelessness: A Q&A with Mayor Michael Hancock

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 20:34:02-04

DENVER -- Minutes after his State of the City address, Mayor Michael Hancock sat down with Denver7 reporter Gary Brode to talk about a wide-range of issues in Denver. What follows is some interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: The Delta variant continues to spread. Is there a chance of another mask mandate or other restrictions in the city of Denver?

Hancock: First let me just say I’m proud of what Denverites have done in terms of going out and getting vaccinated. We have a pretty good rate... we have a pretty good rate in terms of 70% of those eligible to be vaccinated have been vaccinated... We have to be very concerned about the variant and as such, we have to leave everything on the table in terms of how we respond to it.

We know that 97% of those who are being hospitalized or, unfortunately losing their lives today, are people who are unvaccinated. I don’t know what more people need to hear to be convinced that they have to be vaccinated to save their lives and help those around them.

We leave everything on the table. The reality is we have to keep our toolbox flush with options to protect the people and that’s what we did last year, and that’s what we’ll have to do going forward.

Q: Marijuana delivery is now legal in Denver. Why legalize it now?

H: The reality is you have to expect this was going to be the evolution. You’re getting groceries delivered to your home, you get alcohol delivered to your home, that this was ultimate (going to) be a part of the process... It’s also a way for people who wouldn’t be allowed into this industry based on cost or other barriers to get into the industry and to get it in a way that doesn’t require a lot of capital investment to do it.

This is just another way in the evolution of this industry to open up the industry, (for those) who want to enjoy the industry but who don’t necessarily have a lot of capital to participate in this tremendous industry that’s making people a lot of money.

Q: The MLB All-Star Game was less than two weeks ago. How do you think the turnout was and what can you tell us about its impact for businesses downtown?

H: You know, I wasn’t out counting heads but I'll tell you: I was pleased with the vibrancy and the order in which people were out and about and around. I think we won’t know until September all of the numbers and all of the things as a result of the event but I’m awfully pleased.

I’ve had conversations with hotel owners (about) what their occupancy rate (was) to some extent; they were sold out, they didn’t have rooms available for people. Coming out of the pandemic we could not have asked for a better opportunity for restaurants, bars, hotels, small businesses. I’m pleased we were able to host it here. Anything compared to what we just dealt with for a year is a good thing. So I think people, at the end of the day, will say we saw bump regardless what the number turns out to be.

Q: As Downtown Denver continues to rebound from the pandemic and protests last year, there are still windows and doors boarded up. When do you expect to see those fixed?

H: Anything that happened here, happened in cities all across America. If you had windows boarded up or damaged as a result of protest, you can expect that in Milwaukee, certainly in Minneapolis, LA, Tampa, it was all over the country.

As I’ve talked to some of these property owners, they are indeed excited to get the boards off their windows, but they have to wait until 1.) The glass is available and 2.) To get the teams to put them in. So everything is in the works... I fully expect, without having a hard timeline as to why or when, but by the end of the year we will see some resemblance of the boards coming down and windows being replaced. I’m like you, I want them down I want to see downtown return to normal.

Q: You talked about a $450 million infrastructure bond package in your State of the City speech. What does that entail?

H: In May we announced that we would undertake an infrastructure bond. I have $400, $450 million to become participatory in our recovery as a city... By investing in our infrastructure, we create jobs, we give kind of the entire industry, construction industry, a bump by investing, but we also address infrastructure needed in the city.

My hope is that not only do we get good one-time dollars from the federal government and even participation from the state, but Denver steps up to be participatory in its own recovery and making investments and its own infrastructure and its people. We’re projected for 7,500 jobs, $483 billion of economic input through payroll... so those are huge and very important, and important for Denver to play a role in it’s recovery.

Q: You also want to create a state-of-the art mid-sized arena in Denver?

H: The reality is Denver is missing a critical mid-sized arena. We have, of course, Ball Arena, but it’s a pretty large arena. We’re missing that 10,000-seat arena. So, as we plan out the Phase 3 of the National Western Center and Coliseum which is there, which is an old dilapidated facility, we have to replace it with the a new arena.

This is our effort to invest in a state-of-the-art 10,000-seat arena and attract some new type of events and programs we are not able to get today because we’re not able to get the proper seating arena to accommodate that. We expect, in terms of the National Western Center, that it will be at the National Western Center as we have planned and this is one of the elements of the third phase that was not funded through our 2C initiative, initiated several years ago.

We have a chance to design not only a phenomenal facility but one that gives back to the community and surrounding communities with a community benefit strategy design to work with community craft.

Q: It's been a violent summer in Denver, especially in July. What is the city doing in response?

H: I don’t know why that is, but I can tell you: I talk with the coalition of mayors who are experiencing this amazing spike in crime. We are doing everything we can to address the challenges of the spike.

The chief has designed this patrol area strategy which I absolutely agree with. The five top areas, let’s go get it and let’s understand the elements (that give) rise to crime in our communities.

We're taking a comprehensive approach, it’s not just police and patrols. What is our urban design? How clean is the area? What are we doing a create a space that doesn’t say it’s OK to fester an attitude of crime within our people right here?

Q: Is the approach to focus patrol on top five crime areas working?

H: Whether or not it’s working Gary is something we will have to measure as we go forward. Crime in the city, particularly violent crimes, is one that makes us cringe. We certainly are hopeful that it is working down the road, but we’re going to have to take a multi-prong approach to make it successful.

Q: What is the city doing on the issue of homelessness?

H: We are all concerned about homelessness in our city. We’re not going to stop, we’re gonna try to deploy every potential tool to help those in our community who are unhoused and unsheltered, particularly those who are trying to live on the streets.

We do have laws in place and court rulings we have to deal with, but as a city we have never stopped trying to help with the challenges of homelessness. As you pointed out, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the number of people who are unhoused or unsheltered. Economically, that has something to do with it. Obviously, when you see an increase in opiates, fentanyl and other addictions in our community.... mental health challenges are occurring.

I think this new civilian team we’re going to be putting on the streets is going to be helpful. Their goal is to bring a non-police response along with some other things they are going to be doing in the community, but to monitor the things and attempt to encamp, to try to connect people with the services they need and connect with the services they need, is first and foremost, priority for that team. I think that’s going to help us try to do some of the control work; we’re trying to keep the city safe and also manage the encampments in the city.