The city of Denver plans to shut down Civic Center Park next week because of concerns over safety and sanitation, Denver Parks and Recreation announced.
The closure will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 15, though fencing began being set up around the park Tuesday. Scott Gilmore, deputy manager of parks and recreation, told CBS4 on Tuesday the closure would likely last for at least two months, if not longer.
“It’s not safe to walk through the park,” Gilmore told CBS4 of the park between the City and County Building and the State Capitol. “We need to take back the park.”
The city announcement attributed the closure to crime in the park, calling it a "hotspot for violence, crime, drug sales and substance misuse."
So far in 2021, there have been 452 reported crimes at and around Civic Center Park — 26% were property crimes, 23% were drug-related and 15% were violent crimes, according to data from the Denver Police Department.
These crimes have included 54 assaults, 11 robberies, two sexual assaults and two murders. Just last month, a triple shooting in the park left one man dead and two men seriously injured in the early evening of Aug. 6, according to police.
The city has been trying to tackle crime at the park for years. In 2018, Denver used its portion of $21.5 million in state aid to address low-level crime in and around the park after more than 2,400 drug arrests occurred in the area in 19 months, mostly among repeat offenders.
Before that, in 2007, Denver police began an effort to keep repeat offenders out of the park by asking judges to order them to stay away, and pushing for the maximum penalty against offenders who failed to do so.
Sanitation issues are also contributing to the closure, the announcement said. It said, in recent weeks, the park has accumulated food waste attracting rats, human and pet waste, "excessive" amounts of trash, graffiti and improperly discarded needles and drug paraphernalia.
“The current challenges within Civic Center Park have reached a tipping point, creating conditions that put the public’s health and safety at risk,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in the announcement. “This cannot and will not be allowed to continue. This is the people’s park and we are taking steps so that everyone can once again feel safe and welcomed there.”
Last year, the city health department closed Lincoln Park just east of Civic Center Park for several weeks because of a rat infestation and other sanitation concerns.
Though neither Gilmore nor the announcement mentioned homelessness as a reason for the closure, the park has become a popular site for illegal homeless camps and the target of numerous sweeps in the past.
During the closure, Civic Center Park will be cleaned up, with plans including turf restoration, tree rehabilitation and adding additional lights throughout the park, the announcement said.
Gilmore told CBS4 the city will also upgrade the camera system to cover the whole park and will keep park rangers in the park “nonstop" after it reopens.
“(The goal) is to restore Civic Center Park, Denver’s beloved National Historic Landmark in the heart of our city, by providing a safe, clean and inviting public space," said Happy Haynes, executive director of Parks and Recreation, in the announcement.
Besides the announcement, Gilmore and Denver Parks and Recreation have not responded to requests for comment regarding the park closure.
Civic Center Park was Denver’s first national historical landmark, designated by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2012. The park — located at 101 W. 14th Ave. — has served as a designated community gathering space since 1886.
The park’s structures are more than 100 years old, with many part of Mayor Robert Speer’s contribution to the national “City Beautiful” movement during his term from 1904 to 1912.
The area features the Greek Amphitheater, Voorhies Memorial, multiple statues and 25,000 square feet of grass and flower beds.
Over the years, the park has hosted countless festivals, protests and other events, including the annual Denver PrideFest, Taste of Colorado and Christkindl Market.
Many of these events have been canceled or relocated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which might have contributed to a recent lack of cleaning and increase in sanitation issues.