July 14, 2009
Greek Theater, Civic Center Park
Mayor Hickenlooper’s State of the City speech as prepared:
We appreciate all of you being here so early in the morning, but it is cooler, and it allows us to gather before you all head to work.
For decades, the Greek Theater – and the park that surrounds us – has been a central civic gathering place … a place where our citizens come to share ideas and commit to action.
We are honored to have with us Council President Jeanne Robb and the entire City Council, District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, and Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O’Malley. We are also honored to have Gov. Bill Ritter, state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, as well as former Mayor Wellington Webb, and numerous state senators and represents, regional mayors and county commissioners. My wife Helen Thorpe, who gives me great patience and courage, is here as well. Welcome to all of you.
We are gathered during a time of unprecedented challenge.
We are engulfed by the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Whole industries have been brought down one after another. Homebuilding, mortgages, banking, real estate development, insurance, the list goes on. Unemployment is projected to rise to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Foreclosures not only on people’s homes, but also on their businesses, on their livelihoods, are growing by double digits each year.
But in the midst of the global recession Denver remains a place for optimism. We face our challenges head on, and make tough decisions. Our City government must overcome tough times with the same determination that our businesses and families do.
With overall revenues down 8 percent in 2009, we are making tough decisions every day to balance our budget. Working with our cabinet members, our employees and the City Council we have already cut $86 million from our general fund budget for fiscal year 2009.
To help do this we saved a combined $16.8 million in overall personnel costs. And we saved $22.2 million in operational costs, such as deferment of equipment replacement; holding open vacant positions; and reducing the cost of services and supplies. And you’ll notice the lights in the Webb building are turned off a lot earlier.
It is not easy, or even appropriate in a time of decreasing resources, for a City to hire more employees. Indeed, there are fewer people working for the City of Denver today than there were in 2002. But thanks to the dedication of our City workers – and because of innovative new practices like 3-1-1 – we are finding efficiencies and doing more with less.
3-1-1 handled 500,000 calls last year. We use the information collected to improve our business processes. Public Works now fills potholes in 24 hours instead of 96. We are training our neighborhood inspectors to include graffiti in their inspections, so now we will have 22 people working on graffiti instead of just one.
This is progress in the right direction, but we can’t stop there. As we announced last week, the City now faces an additional $120 million shortfall over the next 18 months because of continued revenue declines.
This means there are more tough decisions to make. All of us will feel the impacts. Everything is on the table. But like millions of families and businesses across the country, we must live within our means. And like families do during tough times, we have asked the community to come together and have a conversation about how our City can face economic reality – and emerge stronger.
In a series of community meetings held throughout Denver, we asked you to share with us your priorities for City services and programs. We’re grateful for the input we received.
We heard from Marygael Meister in northwest Denver about how planting perennials instead of annuals in our City parks could save money, water and personnel costs.
We heard from Laura Cullerton in south Denver about how vital our public libraries are, especially to our children and our unemployed during these down economic times.
And we heard from thousands of other citizens, through the Internet, who offered their thoughts and ideas on how we can continue to improve services to our community. As we thank our citizens for their strength and vision in helping our City weather this storm, let us also recognize our City employees.
Doing more with less has made working for our City even more challenging. Yet our City workers have accepted this reality and performed admirably. They have come up with innovative and creative ways to find savings. They come to work with a positive attitude and a “can do” spirit. Let’s take a moment and thank the men and women who serve our City for the great job they do for us every day.
While it may be true that times are tough and budgets are tight, there is another reality that sets Denver apart. We have taken proactive steps to position ourselves for recovery. Our partners in government and in the private and the nonprofit sectors have worked closely with us to ensure that – while we are not immune – we have fared better than many comparable cities around the country. We are poised to emerge from this recession ahead of the pack.
First, we began a hiring freeze more than a ago, when mortgages and home building were the only major worries for many people.
In partnership with Gov. Ritter, we convened a task force of civic leaders from across all sectors of our economy to develop recommendations and strategies we could employ to increase economic activity and help restore consumer confidence. We are grateful to Joe Blake (who we’re going to miss deeply) and the Chamber of Commerce, Tami Door and the Downtown Denver Partnership, and Richard Scharf and VisitDenver, not only for this collaboration, but for all their efforts in making this region a success.
Gov. Ritter is here today and I would like to thank him for his strong leadership. His work to make Colorado a leader in the New Energy Economy is a key part of why our state is doing so much better than other states during this recession – please join me in acknowledging Gov. Ritter.
We continue to work with partners at state and federal government to expedite the receipt of stimulus dollars in a way that is transparent, effective and accountable. To date we have awarded $53 million. We should all remember to thank our congressional delegation, and our two new senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet.
We accelerated the Better Denver Bond projects, approved by Denver voters, so that we could immediately put more money into the economy, put more people to work, and get lower prices while the costs for building materials are low. Six weeks ago we launched the Office of Development Services to cut red tape, to process our permits and plan reviews more efficiently. Whether for stimulus projects, Better Denver Bond projects, or other private construction and development, we have brought together in one office the key people who will be able to get our developments moving forward more quickly, while still protecting the building code and the public good.
Certainly, there is much more to do.
While we continue to prudently manage during these turbulent times, we must also keep our eye on the future. We can’t just manage for today. It was that spirit that gave our citizens the determination to ignore the critics and build a new international airport in the depth of another recession. It is that ability of our community to see beyond the problems of today and look toward the hope and promise of tomorrow that makes our City and region different.
FasTracks captures this sentiment better than any other project in this region.
With 119 miles of new track, it is the most ambitious transit initiative in this country today and the single best example of regional cooperation. We should, while doling out thanks, recognize the efforts of our regional mayors and county commissioners, not to mention the long decade of excellent leadership from Cal Marsella.
We remain completely committed to FasTracks. Great cities are connected to the communities that surround them, and not only by roads. The sustainable regions of the 21st century must have a multi-modal transportation system. It’s no secret that FasTracks has confronted financial problems, but we are determined to do what is necessary to ensure that this vision is completed as promised to our voters – in its full breadth and scope.
FasTracks will help connect our region to our airport. DIA continues to be the single-largest business generator for our region. Last year, the airport handled a record 51 million passengers, one of the few large airports to show an increase. It remains one of the busiest airports in the world. We are creating an updated master plan to ensure that it remains one of the best airports in the world. In the next few years we will invest in a hotel, a world-class train station, and eventually reclaim the Great Hall from a place where we primarily go for security.
At the heart of FastTracks will be Union Station. It will be the next transformational project in our City. Once a key portal of decades past, we see this landmark as an emblem of 21st century redevelopment, and of our innovation and regional collaboration.
This isn’t your father’s train station.
Denver Union Station will be a new, vibrant hub for our City … a transportation center linking the region and a catalyst for all metro Denver. A signature new development that will improve our quality of life and provide even more evidence that our region is on the move.
We’re making solid progress. We have already obtained more than $100 million in grants and stimulus funds, formed a governing entity, negotiated and hired a contractor, and recently signed a notice to proceed in order to commence preliminary infrastructure work. This is only a starting point, but an important one none-the-less. We are now focused on securing federal resources to complement the local support from Denver, DRCOG, RTD and CDOT.
When completed, Denver Union Station will not only be a landmark urban setting, it will also serve as a symbol of the change and transformation that has occurred in the Central Platte Valley. The replacement of the viaducts, bridge connections, the Greenway, Commons Park, Riverfront, LoDo, Pepsi Center, Coors Field, the list goes on. Great cities don’t just pop up like mushrooms after a few days of rain. They are built, street by street, from the sweat of thousands of citizens. Our community has not been reckless, but neither have we been afraid of risk.
This work over the past years has allowed us to build on the reputation for innovation and quality of life that Denver has been developing for decades ... this reputation, which Mayors Webb and Pena and even McNichols did so much to create. It is an investment that is beginning to pay dividends. Innovation and quality of life have become part of our identity. Businesses want to grow in cities with these attributes.
It is part of the reason metro Denver is attracting national notice.
Pew Research Center, in a recent poll, ranked Denver first among the most desirable places to live. Market Watch ranked Denver third among the nation’s 50 major metro areas as the best location for businesses. CNNMoney ranked Denver as one of the top places to live and launch a business. A national real estate expert on the Today Show cited Denver as the number one market poised for a real estate rebound.
And these experts seem to be onto something.
Denver was one of only two cities to see an increase in real estate sales in the first quarter of 2009, while some cities saw decreases of as much as 30 percent.
This is the brand, the type of city, that people and businesses are attracted to. Part of this growing awareness of Denver we owe to the success of the Democratic National Convention.
The DNC put Denver’s quality of life, and all of our successful innovations, on a world stage. Too small to host a Level One National Security Event some predicted, but we brought together more than 50 different law enforcement agencies to create a model of how to put on a national political convention. More than 15,000 people volunteered to help at the convention, and again we thank the Partnership, the Chamber, VisitDenver, and all our other partners. The DNC helped make 2008 the best year for Denver’s tourism in history, as well as marking a record number of hotel bookings for future years. Congratulations, VisitDenver.
We promised the greenest convention, and we delivered. We used less energy in hotels and restaurants. We had 1,000 bicycles available for sharing, which will become a permanent legacy. And the rest of the world heard about our 300 days of sunshine, and our 850 miles of bike paths.
We created a platform that shouted out our other innovative green successes, our planting 150,000 trees toward our goal of a million – trees like these behind me, which will be planted this summer. They heard about our neighborhood blitz, where we sweep into a neighborhoods, and provide lower-income families with cost-effective methods for saving energy, and putting critical extra dollars into their already stretched household budgets.
And next summer, in this very park, we will once again have an opportunity to shine on an international stage as we host the inaugural Biennial of the Americas. For seven weeks Denver will host a “world’s fair” of art and ideas bringing together the brightest most talented people from South, Central and North America. We will have to rely on that same innovation and collaboration that made the DNC such a success to allow the Biennial to continue to build on the rewards of the DNC
Events like the convention and the Biennial allow us to talk to a larger audience about all of our new ideas. And there have been many.
Denver and our voters were the first city in America to ensure that every 4-year-old has access to quality early childhood education. In the first year, 3,000 children and 800 child-care providers benefitted from the Denver Preschool Program. Next year we project 5,500 kids and 143 providers.
The Mayor’s Office of Education and Children has provided low-income preschoolers with 80,000 visits to 12 cultural venues through its 5 By 5 Project. This program, which supplements Head Start, received the highly coveted National League of Cities Award for Municipal Excellence. It also served to gain Denver the Fast Company Magazine distinction as one of the country’s most innovative cities in 2009.
A number of other communities have created their versions of the Denver Scholarship Foundation. This past year, the foundation contributed $2.6 million to 712 scholars and helped secure $16 million in other scholarships. DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who is here this morning, thank you.
In still another innovation, we are bringing together representatives of 12 City agencies, City Council, DPS and nonprofit providers to develop a City-wide Youth Strategic Plan in the coming year.
Innovation is also essential to how we provide assistance to those in need. When a tidal wave of foreclosures began sweeping the nation we acted. In the last year and a half alone we have offered counseling to more than 2,000 families who faced the agonizing threat of losing their home. Working with non-profit partners we were able to help homeowners restructure their loans and lower their interest rates so they could keep a roof over their family’s heads at night. We’ve been able to offer similar counseling and assistance to renters helping more than 900 families fend off the threat of eviction.
Denver’s Road Home has become a national model in how chronic problems such as panhandling and homelessness can be addressed by redirecting existing resources. Our partnership with the faith-based community, the Family and Senior Homeless Initiative, has already enlisted more than 250 congregations to help raise money and provide more than 1,200 volunteers to lift more than 1,300 hundred people in families into homes, and keep them in them. Martin and Tessa Martinez are one typical success story. They became homeless after their new landlord raised the rent, but now have an apartment of their own.
Denver Health has established a reputation as one of the most innovative and successful big city hospitals. Using Toyota LEAN improvement methods, they earned a national award for reducing supply costs better than any of their 144 peer hospitals, two years in a row. They are perhaps the only fully integrated big city health system in America, and as the Obama administration searches for answers to our national healthcare challenges, you can be sure that many will be found in Denver.
The same innovative approach, with broad community involvement, allowed us to redirect upfront capital costs, increase crime avoidance and prevention, and design a new justice center that would be smaller and less expensive. Our new jail management system will provide our talented sheriffs the tools to make this new justice center the most state-of-the-art facility in the country.
We must continue our innovation in public safety. In difficult times we must make sure that our dedicated firefighters, sheriffs and police officers have the equipment and vehicles they need.
It comes as no surprise that often in down economic times we tend to see a corresponding rise in crime.
We have seen a small increase in overall crime from last year – primarily due to an uptick in crimes against property. The good news is that – thanks to our public safety officers – crimes against persons have slightly decreased. The vast majority of our police officers, let’s say 99 percent, perform their duties admirably. For those rare individuals who abuse the system and the public’s trust, public safety management, in conjunction with the police officers union, have developed a rigorous new discipline matrix that allows for consistent and appropriate penalties for misconduct.
Last year’s increase in overall crime isn’t something that we should try to hide or downplay. Nor is it cause for fear or overreaction. What it does mean is that we all must remain vigilant.
We must continue the strategies that we have employed that have made us one of the safest big cities in America.
It also means that, now more than ever, we must support our fine men and women in uniform who risk their lives for us every day. Officers like David Wiley. Last December, Officer Wiley, off duty in a local restaurant, found a distraught pair of women attempting to revive Elvis Castro, an unconscious 2-year-old boy who wasn’t breathing. Officer Wiley immediately radioed for an ambulance and began trying to save Elvis himself. His training, experience and cool reaction enabled him to resuscitate young Elvis. For his actions Officer Wiley was awarded the Life Saving Award.
Officer Wiley is here today. Please join me in recognizing him.
Officer Wiley’s actions are a powerful reminder of the impact an individual can have on his or her community – and the lives of others. Each of us must recognize that we all have a part to play in making Denver – not just a Great City – but also a great community. People can even call 3-1-1 if they want to volunteer or get involved, it’s as easy as that.
We are living during a time of transformation … a time when our entire economy is changing. The new American economy that is only yet beginning to emerge will invest and grow in places that embrace change, celebrate innovation, and where people work toward a common good. Because of all of our work – all of this community’s work – Denver is that place.
Let’s get to work.