By Mekialaya White

DENVER (CBS4) – The City of Denver plans to temporarily close one of the centerpieces of its parks system. Beginning on Wednesday, September 15, Civic Center Park will not be open to the public.

A letter from the city explains the closure is designed to “abate significant public health and environmental health risks that have grown over the past several months and to rehabilitate (the park).”

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It continues: “Over the course of the last several weeks, officials from Denver Public Health & Environment have been monitoring conditions in Civic Center Park, Pioneer Fountain at the corner of Broadway and Colfax, and MacIntosh Park Plaza at 15th Ave. and Cleveland St. for health and environmental hazards which create ongoing unhealthy conditions for all users of the park. Many unsafe conditions were noted, including: litter and food waste that attract bugs and rodents; dozens of rodent burrows; human and pet waste which contribute to the spread of disease and impact water quality; and improperly discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia that creates risks to people visiting the area and to workers tasked with maintaining the area… The goal of Denver Parks and Recreation is to restore Civic Center Park, Denver’s beloved National Historic Landmark in the heart of our city, by providing a safe, clean and inviting public space.

(credit: Denver)

In recent weeks, excessive amounts of trash have accumulated each day, consisting of discarded food, as well as human and hazardous waste, resulting in additional labor hours and rodent infestation. Graffiti and fire damage to the historical stone structures will require professional restoration. A thorough evaluation of the park is also required to ensure all hazardous waste is properly identified and removed.”

(credit: CBS)

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass first broke the story Tuesday morning, and CBS4’s Mekialaya White spent the day at the park on Tuesday. One woman was spotted washing her hair in the water fountain, another appeared to be shooting up drugs, and one man approached a CBS4 camera with a backpack, covering up the lens.

People who frequent the park had mixed opinions on its closure. Kate Mitchell, who’s been visiting the park for years, said something should have been done sooner.

“To me, it hasn’t changed much over the years so I don’t know why they would be closing it. I don’t know why now it would be more pressing,” Mitchell told White.

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Darius Nolte and his son Sora, 5, live near the park.

“As someone who was homeless for three years before I had my little guy here, I understand both sides. Sometimes all it takes is one person to step up and help,” said Nolte. “But there’s others who will take advantage of the system and make everybody else look bad. We’re all people and we all have our faults, but it’s sad to see it close, it really is.”

(credit: CBS)

The Civic Center Conservancy also issued a statement on the closure. Executive Director Eric Lazzari said,

“The Civic Center Conservancy supports the decision of the City & County of Denver to temporarily close Civic Center Park due to safety concerns. As an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping the Park active and thriving for all, we recognize crime and safety have been an issue in this beloved public space for some time and appreciate the City’s leadership in proactively addressing the issues.

During this closure, the conservancy is ready and willing to convene and collaborate with our government officials and community partners to determine the best path forward. We need to take this opportunity for a reset of the park and to examine how we approach services, security and other operational matters.

To be successful in this endeavor, the City, State, nonprofit community and the private sector must come together to approach things differently and ultimately create a safe place for all who gather at the park today and in the future.”

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The closure is temporary, and Civic Center Park will re-open when abatement measures have been completed and the park is safe for everyone to use. The city says organizers of scheduled events in Civic Center Park are being contacted for relocation to other park properties.

Mekialaya White