DENVER (CBS4) – In a State of the City address heavy on employment, transit, tourism and business development, Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday trumpeted the city’s gains in attracting manufacturers and culturing an environment for start-ups.
“When it comes to developing a vibrant economy, the advantage goes to places like Denver, where the smartest, most innovative people want to live,” the mayor said, according to prepared remarks.
He said a primary focus in his first three years was to attract new business and increase employment opportunities. He said the city added more than 27,000 new jobs and 1,500 businesses since 2011. Denver’s unemployment rate, he said, has been cut in half to 5.3 percent since the recession’s peak.
“While we should celebrate this progress, unemployment is still too high,” Hancock said. “We need to ensure that all of Denver can benefit from our progress.”
Hancock touted the city’s progress in emerging from the recession and highlighted new projects like the revamped Union Station, light-rail development and the new hotel and transportation center at Denver International Airport.
A light-rail line to the airport will open in 2016, the mayor said, ferrying passengers to DIA in 30 minutes. Near Union Station in the LoDo neighborhood, $1.8 billion in development helped build a new hotel, open restaurants and develop office buildings.
Looking further ahead, Hancock said the downtown-to-DIA corridor will spur $2.6 billion in economic activity over the next three decades and generate 40,000 jobs.
He said improvements to DIA, including the light-rail line and the hotel, were necessary to stay competitive as other cities aggressively expand their airports.
“Denver cannot afford to be left behind,” Hancock said.
Tourists spent a record $4.1 billion in Denver last year, the mayor said.
Hancock also focused on work in some of Denver’s less affluent neighborhoods.
– A $500,000 investment along the Welton Street corridor in the Five Points neighborhood will help preserve and restore the area’s historic district.
– Farther west, along Federal Boulevard from Alameda Avenue to Interstate 70, the city is spending $60 million in infrastructure improvements, including paving roads and alleys and removing dumpsters to stop illegal dumping.
– In the Westwood community in southwest Denver, Hancock said the city will create a town center and a new park to improve the area.
“Neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community, family by family we are emerging as a city of opportunity for all people,” Hancock said.
The mayor also added an environmental bent to his address, touting the city’s preservation of open space and parks. He said the city has designated an additional 700 acres as open space by the end of 2014. That will bring the city’s open space to more than 5,000 acres.
Hancock also spotlighted affordable housing, noting that 38 percent of Denver renters need help to cover rising rent costs. In response, he said the city hopes to create 600 affordable housing units every year over the next five years. That’s part of a Denver Housing Plan, the mayor said, which will make it “crystal clear” the city is devoted to affordable housing and rent.
Hancock addressed a bevy of other issues, including crime, DMV wait times, legal marijuana hurdles, mental illness and homelessness.