Denver to close Civic Center Park and clean up human waste, needles, rodents

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DENVER (KDVR) — Denver will shut down Civic Center Park for “restoration,” clearing out the people who live and congregate there along with accumulated trash, rodent infestations and hazardous waste the city says pose “significant public health and environmental risks.”

The park will close to the public starting Wednesday, Sept. 15, the city announced in a press release on Tuesday. A closure notice will be posted at the park the Wednesday prior, on Sept. 8.

“The park place no longer safe for the general public,” said Danica Lee, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment’s director of public health investigations division.

Lee said right now there is no set date on when the park will reopen. But she said they expect the cleanup to take a few weeks.

“It’s important we do a deep dive in the grassy areas and clean that up so it’s safe for everybody,” Lee said.

The city said health officials have noted a number of health hazards in the area, which is populated by street campers, and that the park and areas nearby “have become a hotspot for violence, crime, drug sales and substance misuse.”

“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 B. Hancock said in the release. “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.”

Health officials monitored the park, found ‘unhealthy conditions for all users of the park’

The city said “in recent weeks,” health officials have been monitoring areas around the park “for health and environmental hazards which create ongoing unhealthy conditions for all users of the park.”

Health officials focused on these areas:

  • Civic Center Park
  • Pioneer Fountain at the corner of Broadway and Colfax Avenue
  • MacIntosh Park Plaza at 15th Avenue and Cleveland Street

According to the city, health officials found:

  • “litter and food waste that attract bugs and rodents;
  • “dozens of rodent burrows;
  • “human and pet waste which contribute to the spread of disease and impact water quality;
  • “and improperly discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia that creates risks to people visiting the area and to workers tasked with maintaining the area.”

Officials have also taken note of crime in the area. According to the Denver Police Department: Between Jan. 1-Aug. 28, there were 452 reported crimes at and around Civic Center Park:

  • 184 crimes occurred at Civic Center Park — 1499 N Broadway St
  • 268 crimes occurred around the park
  • 81 crimes at 1499 N. Broadway St. were narcotics-related

“It’s dangerous to our employees. There are a lot of needles throughout the park,” Denver Parks and Recreation spokesperson Cyndi Karvaski said.

Denver outreach teams working ‘every day’ with homeless population

Earlier this summer, Hancock announced his administration would “enforce the law” when it comes to the city’s urban camping ban and has cleared out camps in the months since, including ahead of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

“Going through these sweeps — it’s taxing on their mental health. It’s taxing on the possessions,” said Chris Vanarsdol, who said he used to live at Civic Center Park.

Since getting sober and housed, Vanarsdol said he still comes down to help friends. But hearing about the closure makes him worried for them.

“People can live and be a functioning part of society without being inside four walls and a roof,” Vanarsdol said.

Meanwhile, the city has announced plans to provide new housing options, including hotel conversions and new shelters, as voters approved a sales tax to generate $40 million each year to support housing initiatives.

Here’s what work the city has planned for Civic Center Park

  • Professional restoration of historical stone structures, which suffered graffiti and fire damage
  • Turf restoration, including rodent mitigation, reseeding and irrigation system upgrades
  • Tree trimming
  • Lighting upgrades

“The goal of Denver Parks and Recreation 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,” Happy Haynes, executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation, said in the release.

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