Denver election 2021: Five questions, $450M worth of bonds and a controversial arena

Four years ago, a $937 million bond package seeking to raise money for things like overdue roadwork and improvements to city cultural facilities cruised to an electoral victory in Denver.

Mayor Michael Hancock and supporters are back on the ballot this year, asking voters in the Nov. 2 election to approve a $450 million bond package that would take a bite out of the city’s $4 billion backlog of projects.

Dubbed the RISE Denver general obligation bonds, the five debt-inducing measures would fund work including the construction of two new libraries, upgrades to homeless shelters and, most controversially, a new arena at the National Western Center campus.

For supporters, the time to move is now. They point out that federal regulators have indicated that interest rates will be increased starting next year and say investing in city infrastructure will fuel Denver’s recovery from the economic damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“The reality is we have got to play a role in reigniting our economy,” Hancock said. “Most of these projects are focused in underserved neighborhoods. The post-pandemic era is when we focus on delivering services and jobs to underserved communities.”

The RISE package may face more voter scrutiny than the 2017 bonds, particularly when it comes to Referred Question 2E.

The costliest of the five measures, 2E would fund the construction of a 10,000-seat multi-use arena on the National Western Center campus a renovate an arena built there in 1909 to turn it into a public market.

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Hancock sees those projects as the “economic stimulus” portion of the bond package, facilities that will create opportunities for small businesses and bring some money back into the city once complete.

Sarah Lake is leading the No on the Arena Bond campaign against the measure. She says 2E is half-baked, poorly planned and economically unsound, pointing to feasibility studies that raised questions about whether the proposed arena could compete for concerts with the then Pepsi Center and 1stBank Center in Broomfield and if the public market would be sustainable without more population density around the National Western campus.

The long-planned projects were expected to be funded through a partnership with a private developer but the city paused the bidding process for that last year amid the pandemic.

“The city is rushing to pass the cost on to taxpayers after the public-private partnership fell through without taking the time to consider other more equitable ways to finance the project,” Lake said. “We are not going to see the economic benefits if the market and arena ultimately do not turn out to be profitable.”

The RISE Denver campaign backing the bond package has emphasized that 2E will not raise taxes, but Lake says that’s disingenuous. The ballot language leaves the door open for the city to increase property taxes by $35.2 million a year to pay off the debt.

City finance officials say that even under the most conservative estimations, the city expects …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Politics


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