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 3 of 4)
The economic transformation isn’t as smooth or simple as some would like.Skip to next paragraph
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The real estate market here has felt the impact of a nationwide downturn, but a new boom in the traditional energy sector has shielded the city from the woes much of the country is feeling, says Doug Jeavons, an energy analyst with BBC Research & Consulting in Denver. “There’s a bit of déjà vu for those who remember the early 1980s,” he says.
This is a point Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, is eager to emphasize. A recent study conducted by Cushman & Wakefield’s Denver office showed that oil and gas contributed to 37.5 percent of the 2.5 million square feet in new and expanded downtown Denver real estate in 2007.
Oil and gas is still the No. 1 economic contributor to the state, adding $23 billion to the economy annually and employing some 70,000 people, she says. But the tide is turning sharply against the traditional fossil-fuel business as environmentalists are newly invigorated with a Democratic governor and general assembly.
“We are a huge economic contributor to this state and as a reward for that contribution we are facing this complete overhaul of the oil and gas regulation,” she says, referring to the ongoing revision of rules governing how oil and gas operates throughout Colorado.
“There is an enthusiasm for diminishing this industry,” says Ms. Collins. “You’ve got different values going on in the state.... [Y]ou’ve got areas outside Denver that were once farmland that are now becoming housing development where there is oil and gas development.”
As another wave of newcomers come West for the dramatic landscape, says Mr. Jeavons, more tensions can be expected over the rising pace of energy exploration. These newcomers aren’t coming to get rich – many already are. And they don’t want to see a gas rig standing in the way of their Rocky Mountain view.
“Attitudes are different here than they were 20 years ago,” he says. “There is much more public pressure now than there was 20 years ago to better manage” the exploration of fossil fuels.
The weight of the past
When Denver was preparing for the 1908 Democratic convention, its silver rush had ended.
The High Plains region that runs up against the Rockies had turned to agriculture and even tourism. The year before the convention, Denver rushed to build one of the country’s most magnificent civic halls, second only to Madison Square Garden at the time, to entice party bosses to host their convention here.
The Rocky Mountain News reported at the time that the city was desperate to show people there was civilization outside Chicago and San Francisco, says Noel. The old Municipal Hall that held the first conventioneers is now the Ellie Caulkins Opera House and part of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, which city leaders tout as proof of the city’s cultural importance to the West.
It’s big, like most things in Denver.