Ninety from the Twin Cities region learn from Denver

By Barb Thoman, Executive Director

When the Saint Paul and Minneapolis Chambers of Commerce organized an Intercity Leadership Visit to Denver in early October, they had more interest than could be accommodated. Ninety participants from business, government, and the nonprofit sector in the Twin Cities region took advantage of the opportunity to learn from their peers in the Denver region. The goal of the trip: to learn what makes the Denver region such a desirable place to live and work.

I recently asked Will Schroeer, an employee of the Chambers, to talk briefly about his observations after the trip to Denver.  I was in Denver for a week in July of this year and I can attest to how impressed I was by many of the things Will talks about.

Photos of multi-modal transportaton options in Denver, courtesy of Barb Thoman.

 Barb Thoman: If you could describe the trip in one word, what would it be?

Will Schroeer: Infrastructure. After the Denver region’s economy tanked as a result of falling energy prices in the 1980s, Denver saw investments in infrastructure as a way to free itself from the boom and bust cycles that had plagued the region for decades.  Today the region boasts a new international airport, Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, a new light rail system, a strengthening of the region’s park systems, and a major investment in the new Fitzsimons Life Science District.

BT: Is the strategy working?

WS: Denver believes it is, and the stats bear them out. The region now boasts the nation’s third most diversified regional economy.

BT: When I was in Denver this past summer, I saw that two new rail lines are currently under construction. I also saw how much redevelopment was taking place around Union Depot, which will become a multi-modal hub like we are building in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. What did you learn about transit in Denver?

WS: Just about everyone we talked to in Denver–private sector and public–told us that transit expansion has helped advance nearly all the region’s goals: economic prosperity (attracting the work force of the future), housing affordability, air quality improvement, and tourism. Denver is the #1 destination for 25-34 year olds—Millenials—and they come in large part for the life that transit makes possible. We also heard a lot about how proud Denver is to have landed the new US Patent Office, which will bring $40 million in economic benefits over the next five years. What did Patent Office officials say was the #1 reason Denver was selected? Transit.  Denver is paying for all this new investment—and reaping its rewards—through a penny of a regional sales tax dedicated to transit.

BT: You said that you toured the redevelopment at the old Stapleton Airport and I did the same this summer. How would you describe it?

WS: Stapleton is a new mixed-use community on the east side of Denver. It is walkable, will be served by a new rail line, and has the kind of density you rarely see in new communities here. The success of Stapleton made me think of the potential of the Ford Site in Saint Paul.

Barb Thoman:  Is there anything else you would like to highlight about the trip?

WS: I was particularly impressed by the Fitzsimons Life Science District in Aurora and the adjoining University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The 600 acre site will include bioscience laboratories, research facilities, medical treatment and education, and in a few years a new VA Hospital. We were told by the medical community that medical innovation happens over lunch often through social interaction made easier by proximity and density.  Again that spoke to the importance of compact development, walking and public transit.

For more on this topic, don’t miss TLC’s new two-page summary of public transit in Denver (PDF).