#3: The Amazing Denver Voter

Cheers! to Denver voters for coming in #3 on our Denver’s Top 10 Urbanism Achievements of the Aughts countdown. Frankly, Denver voters should probably come in #1 for not just this past decade, but for all 15 of Denver’s decades, considering their record of voting for civic projects of every kind.

The reasons for Denver’s enthusiasm for approving civic projects are complicated but discernible. Part of it has to do with Denver’s inferiority complex. Since our city’s founding (relatively late as big cities go—the late 1850s), we’ve tried to overcome our new-kid-on-the-block, dusty-outpost-in-the-middle-of-nowhere insecurities (the “cowtown syndrome”) by proving to the world that we can do all the stuff bigger and older cities do—and then bragging about it. When that fails to earn us the respect we believe we deserve, we try even harder. Next, Denver seems to draw people who are seeking a better place to live or who are looking to make a fresh start; so upon moving here, many newcomers are predisposed toward community improvement. Denverites are also known to be an optimistic bunch (due to the ubiquitous sunshine and stunning mountain vistas, no doubt), so one way people here express that optimism is through investing in their city. Finally, Denver has been fortunate over its history to have had a municipal government that has been relatively competent and corruption-free and that generally delivers civic projects as promised. Along with our strong-mayor system and the dynamic, effective leaders it has produced, a sense of trust exists between the citizens and the city that perpetuates an environment of collective civic ambition. That’s my take on it, anyway. Now, back to the voters:

  • November 1999 (just a few weeks from the start of the new decade): Denver voters approved (55%) an increase of the city’s lodging and car-rental taxes to raise $261.5 million toward the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center, a $62.5 million general obligation bond for expansion of the Denver Art Museum (61%), and a $62.5 million bond for upgrades at the Denver Zoo (66%). Denverites also voted in favor (66%) of the state’s TRANS proposal which authorized the $1.7 billion T-REX light rail and highway reconstruction project. Denver voters also approved TABOR exemptions for both RTD and Denver Public Schools.
  • November 2002: Denver voters approved (68%) general obligation bonds totaling $25 million for the renovation of the Denver Auditorium (creating what is now the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex).
  • May 2003: Denver voters approved (65%) general obligation bonds in the amount of $148 million for the expansion of the Denver Health Medical Center.
  • November 2004: Denver voters approved (65%) an increase in the sales tax of 0.4% for RTD’s FasTracks program. Also, Denverites voted in favor (74%) to extend the 0.1% Scientific & Cultural Facilities District sales tax for another 14 years.
  • May 2005: Denver voters approved (56%) the issuance of $378 million in general obligation bonds for the construction of the new Denver Justice Center courthouse and detention facility in Downtown and other improvements at the existing County Jail on Smith Road.
  • November 2005: Denver voters approved (66%) increasing the city’s lodging tax by 1% to pay for Denver tourism and convention marketing programs, and a 10-year exemption from TABOR for the City & County of Denver (64%). Also, Denver voted in favor (63%) of Referendum D, which would have authorized the state to spend $2.1 billion for transportation and other capital improvements. Referendum D failed, however, statewide.
  • November 2007: Denver voters approved all eight of the Better Denver bond issues by margins ranging from 52% to 67% for a total of $550 million in capital improvements for health and human service facilities, libraries, transportation/public works projects, parks and recreation projects, public office buildings, public safety facilities, existing cultural facilities, and new cultural facilities (expansion at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the reconstruction of Boettcher Concert Hall). Denver voters also approved (55%) a permanent 2.5 mill property tax increase for regular capital improvements and infrastructure investments.
  • November 2008: Denver voters approved (68%) general obligation bonds in the amount of $454 million for renovations and new construction for Denver Public Schools.

The only Denver ballot item for a civic project that I could recall that failed during the decade was in November 2001 for the Denver Justice Center—then planned to be built at I-25 and 6th Avenue—which was controversial mostly due to the location and was approved a few years later after the switch to the Downtown site.

Denver’s legacy of supporting civic projects and investments in the city’s infrastructure continued to flourish this past decade, which is why I’m including it in our list of Denver’s Top 10 Urbanism Achievements of the Aughts.

By | 2016-12-24T20:34:23+00:00 January 30, 2010|Categories: Economic Growth, History, Infrastructure, Politics, Regionalism, Sustainability|3 Comments


  1. Matt Pizzuti January 31, 2010 at 3:14 am

    I’m reminded of when Colorado voters explicitly turned down the 1976 Olympics – a huge rejection when the city had already gone through the pains of winning the games – all because they feared the population growth that would come in as a result.

    Ironic that the same kind of “responsible” and contrarian sentiment in Colorado that, in the 2000s, chose to buck the popularity of individualism and instead make big public investments in the city, were in 1976 a rejection of a major public investment because voters feared the Olympics would lead to regional environmental damage.

    I guess in 1976 they were trying to avoid growth, which then meant sprawl, and in the 2000s Denver has been trying to promote growth, which in this case is urbanism. So maybe the sentiment is more consistent than it would seem.

    Voters also seem keen on the idea of having an Olympic Games here in the future. Maybe that’s because the trends of development have changed, and these days a high-profile event in the city would more likely lead to urban growth than suburban growth, which is really different from how things were 40 years ago.

  2. Julio January 31, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Now if only we can get some of those Better Denver bond issue projects completed. Two plus years later we still don’t have a Central Denver recreation center, or a West Denver or Stapleton libraries, mostly due to bureaucratic wrangling. I’m glad Denver residents support these infrastructure improvements, but we really need to get them going as soon as possible.

  3. Ken January 31, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    The Better Denver website gives you a progress report on all the projects. Some take longer than others obviously. I believe the goal is to have all projects completed by 2012.

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