By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – Event and convention planners surveyed a year ago told Denver marketing leaders they were steering conventions away from the city due to homelessness issues and the perception of unsafe conditions surrounding the 16th Street Mall.
“We will most likely not return to Denver based on the current situation with all of the street people,” wrote one planner following a convention a year ago. Another wrote, “I’m sorry but I would never consider putting attendees in danger by holding a convention in your city.”
The scathing comments were compiled and presented to Denver City Council last December, long before the recent eruptions of violence on the 16th Street Mall. Visit Denver, the cities’ marketing agency, presented the comments seven months ago as part of a presentation on the impacts downtown Denver was having on the tourism industry and visitor perceptions.
“It’s bad for everyone, bad for business and tourism for sure,” said Denver city councilman Wayne New. “That word gets out and we have a major economic impact on our city.”
New said when he saw and heard the presentation in December, his thought was, “it’s terrible.”
Meeting planners surveyed by Visit Denver said the downtown environment was their number one complaint. Half of the meeting planners contacted by Visit Denver negatively commented on homelessness, panhandling, safety, cleaninliness and drugs.
According to the Visit Denver report obtained by CBS4, “Denver is losing visitors and valuable convention business as a result of these overall safety issues. Unfortunately word is beginning to spread among meeting planners about the safety challenges Denver is facing. We fear not being able to brand Denver away from this growing reputation.”
Richard Scharf, director of Visit Denver, said “We are struggling with the same issues that big cities around the country are struggling with. What this really says to us is they are letting us know that they are concerned about the environment or they are perceiving some issue.”
Scharf said despite the harsh criticism, convention business remains strong and steady.
The Visit Denver survey showed that from 2013 to 2014, negative meeting planner perceptions of the downtown environment rose from 36% to 49%.
One national convention that was held in Denver in July 2015 provided Visit Denver the following comments from attendees: “Denver seems less safe now that pot is legalized.”
Another attendee wrote that “as we sat outside on a patio on the 16th Street Mall on Sunday evening having a beer, I turned my head to look at a television, when I turned back a street person was drinking my beer. I am sure this is not an image Denver wants portrayed around the country.”
Last August, another email to Visit Denver recounted how a group was staying at a downtown hotel on the 16th Street Mall “and last night witnessed a group of about 30 teenagers attack a man walking along 16th street. I am told this is not an unusual occurrence,” wrote the witness.
Scharf told CBS4 “If we didn’t address it, it would be a real concern. But I think the fact is that we’ve acknowledged that we have some challenges.”