Denver ready to greet convention crowd
August 22, 2008
DENVER ” Workers erected a heavy metal fence around the Democratic National Convention Center site Friday while visitors strolled through a nearby shopping district that was decorated with brightly colored flags rustling in a breeze.
It was a calm-before-the-commotion moment as businesses readied to handle security restrictions, crowds and congestion starting Monday. Some will embrace visitors; some have shortened work days and others plan to close.
Experts disagree on just how much Denver will benefit economically from the four-day event, which has taken nearly two years to organize. Estimates range from as little as $15 million up to $200 million.
Many business owners recognize they may not get much of a sales bump, yet they are eager to be a part of it all. “We’re excited about the excitement,” says Heather Duncan, a spokeswoman for the Tattered Cover Book Store about a half mile from the convention site.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, national political conventions haven’t proven to be the economic boon they once were. Costs mount with increased security, and disruptions ranging from protests to heavy traffic can deter locals from visiting businesses near convention sites.
In Denver’s case, the convention itself may become a distraction because heightened interest in Barack Obama’s candidacy could prompt delegates to spend more time at sessions and less time as tourists, said University of Chicago economics professor Allen Sanderson.
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On the flip side, the city’s moderate size ” compared with New York or Los Angeles ” means it could see more impact from dollars that are spent, he said.
The Denver area is no stranger to large events, playing host to a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1993 and the NBA All-Star Game in 2005 at the same site as the convention, the Pepsi Center.
About 110,000 people work in the downtown area, which has more than 1,000 shops and restaurants. Some 62,000 people live within a 1.5-mile radius of the downtown area.
City officials lobbied aggressively to land the convention, believing it would underscore the growing popularity of Democrats in the Rocky Mountain West. New York was the other finalist but its bid was hurt when the city would not commit to underwrite convention costs.
City tourism officials believe the convention and countless events scheduled around it will generate between $150 million to $200 million for Denver’s economy, although it’s difficult to gauge until taxes and other revenue are counted, Metro Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman Rich Grant said.
They also expect the event to prompt more visitors to the city and the Rocky Mountains in the future as a result of media coverage, Grant said.
Sanderson, who studies large-scale events, says he thinks the convention itself will be more interesting for the delegates than previous conventioin. That means less time to spend their dollars elsewhere. He has estimated it will generate about $15 million to $16 million for the city’s economy.
Anderson speculated that delegates who do skip sessions will head for places in or closer to the mountains, like Boulder, Breckenridge and Rocky Mountain National Park, rather than stay in Denver.
For the convention, some of the early concerns about clogged streets, restricted access to downtown and security challenges resulting from the influx of people have been eased.
Street closures include two major thoroughfares into downtown that run alongside the Pepsi Center and a short-term closure of a major interstate. Mass transit also will be limited.
A tight security perimeter surounds the Pepsi Center, which is on the western edge of downtown. “We missed it by a street,” says Gates Corp. spokeswoman Meg VanderLaan of the security checkpoint.
Gates, an industrial and automotive products manufacturer headquartered across the street from the Pepsi Center, leased part of its parking lot to a news organization and sought 117 employees to volunteer to give up their spaces.
Those workers plan to get to work by public transportation, car pool or even walking, VanderLaan said. About 20 percent will work from home at least part of the time.
Carole Anderson figures she is one of the lucky ones, even though the business she manages, Crush Salon, will close Monday through Wednesday because of an expected drop in business.
“We waffled over it for weeks, should we be open, should we not,” she said. “It was a gut-wrenching decision.”
Anderson plans to be in the area anyway to people-watch and participate where she can. “It’s an exciting time to be living in Denver and be a part of such a huge piece of history,” Anderson said.