Denver’s second coming-out party
Local officials will showcase at the Democratic convention a city transformed – just as they did a hundred years ago.
(Page 2 of 4)
But fossil fuels remain a major player here today and the natural-gas industry is booming across Colorado. In the metro region alone, traditional energy companies employ 14,560 people, making fossil fuels the second-largest industry in the area, according to the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. The government is the region’s largest employer.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But renewables are catching up and now employ 13,941 people in the nine counties that make up the Denver region.
The renewable-energy lab’s funding rises and falls with the economy and price of oil, says lab spokesman George Douglas. These days have been good for renewable research.
Last month, Mr. Douglas strode from building to building, explaining how their scientists were figuring how best to turn corn stover, the postharvest remains of the corn plant, into ethanol. In another building, solar panels were being perfected. At one point he stopped to see if there were enough plastic-wrapped safety goggles for groups of Democratic delegates expected to the lab this week.
From geologist to greenie
Hickenlooper moved west in 1981 along with thousands of other exploration geologists drawn by the thriving oil industry that would come to define Denver.
“We were like lemmings,” he joked. When oil crashed, many migrated elsewhere and left the new office buildings vacant that shot up just years before.
But Hickenlooper stayed and did what Denverites before him have done to ride out the low periods that punctuate the city’s story line. He reinvented himself, and his transformation seemed drawn straight from Denver’s history books: he opened a saloon (the city’s first building was a saloon). It was a microbrewery and restaurant, to be more precise, and would eventually become the linchpin for redeveloping the city’s lower downtown neighborhood (now called LoDo), which was just a collection of vacant warehouses and flophouses when his brewpub opened in 1988.
“The great thing about Denver and all of the Rocky Mountain West is that it doesn’t matter out here who your parents were or your grandparents were, it matters who you are and how hard you are willing to work to achieve your dreams.... And that’s a liberating sensation to have in a community,” he says.
The redevelopment of LoDo is one of Denver’s success stories and part of its efforts to diversify its economy. The area was helped along by the development of nearby Coors Field, and the Pepsi Center where the Democrats will converge.
“When we first moved down here there were practically more pigeon occupants than people,” says Joyce Meskis, owner of the independent Tattered Covered bookstore that opened downtown in 1994. Today, new loft-style condos are rising all around the lower downtown area and the development has brought many new residents, including Ms. Meskis, here.
“The life it’s brought, the energy, just the reinvigoration of the city feels good. When you have the preservation of the urban core with its cultural architecture with the legacy of that it’s something special,” she says.
Historian Thomas Noel, who has penned many books on Colorado, says if he were writing a new chapter on the city it would be called “Return to downtown.”
Denverites have rediscovered a city that was essentially one big skid row until the 1990s when developers started moving in, opening restaurants and converting buildings into lofts, says Mr. Noel.
“Almost from the beginning of Denver’s history, there was suburbanization. Now for the first time we see wealthy people moving downtown. The core city is actually growing,” he says.
Old economy versus new