Here is a letter from Historic Denver that was published in the Rocky Mountain News.
September 6, 2006
Re: Putting the Civic back in Civic Center
Last week New York architect Daniel Libeskind unveiled his vision for Civic Center at a town hall meeting at Denver’s Convention Center. Over 700 people patiently awaited the long delayed public presentation of what has become one of Denver’s worst kept secrets: an audacious plan which would drastically overhaul our City Beautiful era park and gathering place. Citing a recently approved Master Plan for Civic Center prepared by Mundus Bishop, the noted designer said his first priority would be the retention and preservation of all the park’s historic elements. However, they would be overlaid by a new skewed axis and multiple elements intended to solve the stated problem: lack of Wow.
The response has been tepid at best. Few if any wows were heard from the audience, although the panelists were determinedly upbeat in their support of the 40 million dollar plus proposal. No wonder: An extraordinary Memorandum of Agreement between the new private non-profit Civic Center Conservancy and the City takes the review and approval of Libeskind’s plan away from the Landmark Commission and City Council and places it solely with the Mayor’s appointed Parks and Recreation Director Kim Bailey. Though the public and their representatives may observe and comment, Ms. Bailey, as it stands now, will make the final decision.
It is a perfect time to focus on Denver’s most beloved landscape. As Mayor Hickenlooper pointed out in his introduction, the City will celebrate its 150th birthday in 2008. What better year to unveil a revitalized City Center? It is shabby and sometimes littered; it is hard to reach; it is too empty; and it lacks the security that a regular bike and horse patrol could provide. But these problems are the result of neglect, not of a flaw in the original concept and implementation of the serene and beautiful 1918 Beaux Arts plan. If the Park’s wonderful original Carnegie library, the City’s McNichols Building, were to be converted to a public use and restaurant, a great step forward could be taken to attract new investment and life to the park. If the crossing across Colfax were improved in any number of ways, including a longer pause at traffic signals, City and newspaper employees just across the street could easily enjoy the Park at noon. Others would follow, finding it easier to get to the park and surrounding museum district from the 16th Street Mall and Lower Downtown.
The process now beginning must be more than a series of public meetings to approve what has just been presented. The Landmark Commission should be allowed to determine whether or not the proposed plan is one that protects the integrity of this Denver Landmark and National Register historic district, rather than simply being “briefed” by the Parks Department. City Council members, our elected representatives and stewards of the City’s resources, should approve any such changes. Let’s give Civic Center the attention it deserves by supporting its preservation through a publicly supported bond issue and privately supported donations. Its future should not be determined by outside experts, no matter how prestigious, nor should its fate be left to an inside unilateral decision by Ms. Bailey and the Conservancy, no matter how audacious the vision. The people of Denver are the real experts on the use and enjoyment of Civic Center. A partnership that truly includes the public would be a great start.
Historic Denver, Inc.