2020: Hope in the Most Unlikely Places

12/22/2020 1:45 PM | Kylie Brown (Administrator)

2020. There’s nothing that I could write to open this that you haven’t heard or could even sum up this year. First, we want to say that we hope no matter what you have been through this year, that you are healthy. Next, we would like to especially thank all of our members, sponsors, and partners for making our work possible. This year has been very different but we have been so blessed to work with you all virtually and from a distance. Despite the disruption of the pandemic, we have had a busy and fun year working from our kitchen tables, armchairs, and make-shift standing desks. 2020 has inspired us in many ways: the return to the local, the power of partnership, and the opportunities of disruption. 

Believe it or not, we were once able to gather for events in-person. So, in the beginning of the year we gathered to discuss the enduring challenges of small-scale development in the face of rising property taxes/rents, increasing costs for small business, high construction costs and a regulatory framework that does not support the vision. The goal of this event was to start a wave of development possibilities that protect and enable small business and property owners to stay put, grow, and thrive! While challenges have grown for small business and property owners this year, there was one win this year that will make doing business in the future just a little easier. That win is, of course, the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment. DCI partnered with EDCC to put on a month of Gallagher education this year to advocate for education and spur informed action around this complicated amendment and the effects it has had on our businesses, special districts, and cities.

Early in the year, we were also in the full throws of planning our annual IN THE GAME event and very excited to be in Colorado Springs this year. With all the uncertainty of what would occur next, we found that we still needed to show that there was a certain freedom to dream and share ideas because no one knew for certain where we would be in a few months. We created the 2020 Virtual COVID Challenge Summit in order to do just this. We decided to share our dreams and ideas together in April, at the time where there were no limits to the change we could imagine. The goal of the Summit was to share inspiration and gather ideas to ensure that Colorado has the resources needed to support our communities, districts, and small businesses! DCI used discussions, polls, and engaging processes in our first major virtual event to develop an action plan together to move into our new reality stronger and more resilient than ever. We tried to encompass what DCI is all about (FUN!) in this engaging event and we continued to incorporate these ideas into our many virtual events this year. 

Katherine Jarvis from Denver Economic Development and Opportunity, who attended the Summit, remarked that, “The speakers were really excellent, and I appreciate the past, present and future perspectives of each.
(Another benefit to virtual events is that everything can be recorded and encapsulated as a future resource. 
You can watch the virtual summit here.)

Since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, DCI began a weekly series for Downtown Champions to connect with peers, learn best practices and need-to-know information regarding the COVID shutdown. DCI also created an online resource library full of trainings, resources and best practices. As small business, districts, and local government were seeing budget reductions and adaptation to the new normal, DCI also hosted numerous events focused on urban renewal, redevelopment, and districts events to discuss mitigating risk and predictions for the future. The Developer vs URA knock-down, drag out mock debate between Carolynne White and Paul Benedetti was the event of the season! We also completely revamped our URA + District Resource Center to better serve our members and clearly organize all of the training, case studies, and guiding documents that we have to share. DCI has proven this year to be Colorado's Downtown Champions' go-to place for innovative, timely, and practical solutions through the 2020 Pandemic. 

We also wanted to focus on big ideas and keep the conversations going about the important topics of equity, streets, housing and more with our “Future Of” Big Talk series. This dynamic platform shared big ideas to shape the next phase for commercial districts and downtowns. DCI has been hosting thought leaders and innovators who provide our members with tools they need for today and the future. Highlights include the “Future of Equity” and the work of Nita Mosby-Tyler of the Equity Project. This conversation examined the actions and the ways to support a more equitable future. The question comes down to each individual, each organization, and each community. The “Future of Housing” highlighted Ismael Guerrero’s work with Mercy Housing. This discussion included the topics of understanding redevelopment and displacement and how we can raise our standards for retaining residents as well as considering in a post pandemic world, what are the trends that will shape the future of housing in successful urban and rural communities? We are planning more Big Talks for 2021. The first one of the year will focus on the “Future of Building Community Wealth” with Yessica Holguín. Register Here!

The DCI Colorado Challenge Accelerator Program was created as a dynamic program and approach capable of adapting to specific community needs. The pandemic has showcased how this program, when paired with amazing community partners, is able to address unexpected challenges. The 2020 Challenge Communities have demonstrated innovation and provided their businesses and residents with hope during this time. We have been inspired to witness and provide support for these five communities with overcoming pre-existing challenges, creating a COVID response, and building a plan to create stronger communities into the future. Each community has a unique profile and challenge. The Challenge Program approach has helped each community move the needle this year. The communities this year include Cañon City, Center, Durango, Old Colorado City, and Rocky Ford. Read about all of their accomplishments here

“Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) played an integral role in La Plata County’s economic recovery. The Challenge Program brought community leaders together during our Challenge Community Virtual Studio Workshop to plan for a safe and efficient economic reopening,”Alex Rugoff from The City of Durango remarked. “The Workshop led to the formation of the La Plata Economic Recovery Task Force, which has been instrumental in providing local businesses resources to survive and adapt to the changing environment. I would strongly encourage other communities to get involved in DCI’s Challenge Community Program.”

Another project started this year has stemmed from our Challenge Program called the San Luis Valley Placemaking and Engagement project. The purpose of this initiative is to inspire the people of the San Luis Valley to reclaim and restore beloved community places in their region through community connectivity, cohesive vision, and partnerships to ultimately leverage local and outside investment for local social entrepreneurship.  The project’s focus will directly impact five communities: Antonito, Center, La Jara, Saguache, and San Luis, but the impacts will work toward the vision and needs of the region by furthering the push for a unique and dynamic development. We have created an engagement site and will implement placemaking within the built environment in 2021 for residents from the Valley to share their vision for their community and help shape opportunities for the future. Check out the SLV Places site here!

In addition to the Challenge Program and the San Luis Valley Placemaking and Engagement Project, DCI offers support for DOING with the Downtown Capacity Building Americorps VISTA Program. DCI is a sponsoring organization that manages and places VISTA members across the state which included the placement of 12 VISTAs this year at 9 sites. The VISTAs work on objectives that relate to community and economic development, housing, transit, education access, and more. 

While none of us could have predicted this year and all of its twists and turns, we are extremely inspired by the way our communities have been able to pick up, innovate, and survive in the midst of chaos. We hope that you have been able to take part our special events, programming, and collaboration. It is an honor to serve all of our Colorado communities. We look forward to a brighter 2021. We are developing programming to GET IT DONE in 2021. We will focus on topics for Capacity Building, Tactical Activation, and Building Inclusive Places. Look into becoming a member or renewing so you don’t miss out! THANK YOU for being a Doer!

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