Denver hopes to compile $400 million bond package on economic recovery for voters this November

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Posted at 3:04 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 19:50:43-04

DENVER – Mayor Michael Hancock and his administration plan to ask Denver voters to approve a $400 million general obligation bond package this November they say would be geared toward infrastructure projects, pandemic recovery and job creation.

Though the proposed bond package, called RISE Denver, is currently mostly scant on details, city officials and the chief financial officer said they have a list of projects of varying size and scope that the package, if it is approved by the city council for November’s ballot, would address.

“This is the kickoff of a conversation,” said Denver Office of Economic Development Executive Director Eric Hiraga.

Officials said if the package is approved for the ballot and then approved by voters, there is the potential for it to create thousands of jobs in construction, hospitality and other industries. Hiraga said Denver lost 25,000 jobs during the pandemic but said that was not uncommon in business districts across the country.

Hancock said the city’s economy was in a better place than he and other officials expected it to be at the onset of the pandemic and was lucky to maintain financial reserves and a AAA bond rating through the pandemic.

While the city has been helping businesses here through the past year with grant money, officials on Wednesday said the bond, if approved, would help to jumpstart the city’s recovery from the pandemic and recession along with help from the American Rescue Plan, the federal stimulus package signed by President Biden, a possible upcoming infrastructure package and other local and state partnerships.

The city will likely get between $140 million and $311 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan – likely with the first half coming in the next few weeks, officials said. The second half of the funds would be distributed in 2022. All funds from the stimulus package will have to be used by the end of 2024.

“To seize this unique moment in history, and to ensure that we really do build back better and sustain this recovery, we need to leverage the federal government’s investment,” Hancock said. “We need to seize this opportunity to kickstart our recovery and sustain it. Simply put – infrastructure creates jobs, supports communities and grows the middle class.”

Brendan Hanlon, the city’s chief financial officer, said the city is hopeful that it can leverage more money from the proposed bond and the federal stimulus package to get more money for recovery projects in the coming years ahead that will supplement those dollars.

The city says it hopes to create 40,000 jobs by the end of 2022 with its plan. Officials said the city wants to be sure that the voices of the Denver community, businesses and others are involved in prioritizing which projects would be funded by the bond package during May and that they are planning listening and organizing sessions for those conversations to take place.

Hanlon said the priorities would be restoring city services affected by the pandemic, facilitating more business ventures in Denver, hiring vacant positions, increase COVID-19 vaccination efforts and support a local economic recovery. They say keeping equity for people of color and woman in mind would be key as the package is developed.

The city will also be releasing its fifth round of COVID relief funds to the community next month as the council and others start discussing what should go into the bond package. Officials said they hoped a federal infrastructure package would pass this summer, which would in theory add more federal dollars to the mix and get the bond initiative finalized and voted on by the city council later this summer ahead of the November election.

The Downtown Denver Partnership says the kind of investment officials discussed Wednesday could encourage the private sector and attract news business.

“These infrastructure projects we know create massive economic impact by creating jobs,” said Kate Barton, the senior vice president of the Executive Office of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “And the jobs are residual, so it isn’t only the person who might be working directly on the project, but also the companies that help support those projects — ultimately creating a huge number of jobs that help drive economic recovery.”

Jack Strauss, the chair of applied economics at the University of Denver, says construction spending generates jobs and is a good idea, but said he had one concern about the proposal.

“By going maybe too big, you risk, possibly, a rejection at the ballot box. Because in the past, as I mentioned, although infrastructure is usually important, Colorado has not been keen on higher taxes in the future,” Strauss said.