Editorial: Wondering what Hancock did in 12 years? Look at Brighton Boulevard.

History will remember Mayor Michael Hancock for many things – his tireless service during the pandemic, the completion of Union Station on his watch, and the explosive growth of Denver International Airport.

The mayor’s real legacy, however, will be the public works projects that have taken root across every corner of this city, bringing hope, revitalization, and finally a sense of equity to all Denverites.

We cannot sugarcoat Hancock’s lapses in judgment. His flirtatious text messages with a member of his security detail from the Denver Police Department caused real harm both to the victim of his unwanted advances and also to the nationwide effort to address sexual harassment in the workplace in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Denver is still struggling to balance compassionate care for unhoused individuals choosing to live in camps on public land rather than in shelters, and the often related epidemic of drug addiction and overdoses.

On Hancock’s watch, there’s been an uptick in homicides, especially teen violence, and a proliferation of property crimes.

But when we look at Hancock’s administration, over more than a decade with a transformative booming economy, on balance, we’d say the mayor did good for Denver.

No place is this more clear than along Brighton Boulevard just north of downtown where a dense urban community sprouted up from forgotten warehouses and a neglected street became a major connected thoroughfare with wide sidewalks and landscaping. Businesses flourish supplied with customers from apartment towers sprouting up like sunflowers.

This is the heart of RiNo (River North) and nowhere is Hancock’s mark more visible than this bar-filled, arts district anchored by The Mission Ballroom and ending where the much improved although not quite completed National Wester Center begins. Private investors were willing to take a risk and bet big in the area in part because of the city’s commitment to rebuilding Brighton and investing in parks, libraries, the National Western Center, and the RiNo brand.

The transformation has been more radical perhaps than even the rebirth of LoDo under then-Mayor John Hickenlooper or the revitalization of the 16th Street Mall under Mayor William McNichols.

Denver’s next mayor, Mike Johnston, who will be sworn into office Monday, should look to RINO and Brighton Boulevard and embrace the good while discarding the bad.

The good is obvious – drastically improved public infrastructure, dense housing added without displacing any residents, a mecca for new small businesses and long-established ones too. But with the addition of thousands of new housing units close to public transportation and downtown, it is disappointing how few are affordable. The city was late to overlay the area with special incentives to build affordable housing and even later to put in stricter requirements to dissuade developers from simply paying a fee to avoid building required affordable units.

In 2017 Denver voters approved the billion-dollar Elevate Denver Bond Program, which for the past six years has enabled redevelopment throughout the entirety of Denver, with an extra focus on areas historically forgotten by public officials when it came time for investment. With four more years of the bond remaining, Hancock’s legacy will continue to be built long after he leaves office. Even as we speak, bike lane infrastructure is being improved, parks are being built and epic playgrounds are getting unveiled. One of the most critical projects for the underserved Westwood neighborhood, a $37 million 40,000 square foot recreation center with a pool, must still be completed. Johnston should make it a top priority.

Hancock leaves Johnston a track record of transparency and project delivery when it comes to these general obligation bonds. Denverites historically grumble about the relentless pace, appearance, and effects of private development, but for all our angst over change, one thing Denverites can say is that Hancock delivered public projects that improved the quality of life in this city from the furthest reaches of northwest Denver with the creation of the Montbello Open Space Park.

Denver has changed dramatically in the past 12 years, both good and bad, but Mayor Michael Hancock’s three terms will be remembered as a period of rapid growth and investment with a commitment to equity across a city growing increasingly economically segregated.

Johnston would do well to continue that legacy of public investment in public projects with a focus on historically underserved neighborhoods.

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