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DENVER (KDVR) — With Denver Police seeing an increase in crime downtown, the calls for service are piling up — and so are the vacant storefronts. 

Downtown at 16th and Champa Streets has one of the city’s top three highest concentrations of drug and alcohol crimes, along with Union Station and Civic Center Park, according to a FOX31 Data Desk report. The intersection of 16th and Champa recorded 53 crimes, many of them alcohol-related, between Jan 1 and Dec. 1, 2021.

A new program by the Downtown Denver Partnership is now literally paying business concepts to call 16th Street home, with the Champa intersection one of the targeted areas for the Popup Denver program.

The program has the goal of working with property owners to activate vacant spaces and bring in new and unique businesses that “reimagine downtown one storefront at a time,” according to the program’s website.

The goal, however, is to make these businesses permanent tenants and help them get on their feet before committing to a long-term lease.  

5 locations up for grabs

Many businesses felt pandemic pressures put a pause on profits. The Sports Fan on 16th Street is no exception.  

“We were heavily, heavily impacted by COVID,” said Derek Friedman, owner of The Sports Fan. “First, that we were forced to close, but second, that attendance to games was way, way down because folks weren’t allowed to go. And so when attendance is down, that means traffic is down to 16th Street and that really, really hurt our business.”

Unlike their neighbors, they are still open.  

“We did a detailed inventory of all of 16th Street and we found that there were quite a number of vacancies really distributed evenly up and down the length of the street,” said Sarah Wiebenson, with Downtown Denver Partnership.

Empty storefronts litter 16th Street, but COVID might not be the only reason for all the closures.  

“We’ve seen a significant amount of crime at those particular stores,” Friedman said, attributing it to a lack of police patrolling the area. 

“One of the key differences is the population of police that used to be directly in front of our store and just right around there, and all along 16th Street,” Friedman said.  

Friedman is very supportive of the new pop-up program.

“The Downtown Denver Partnership has created something I think is actually pretty clever,” Friedman said.  “So we’re very supportive of it.”

There are five locations that are up for grabs. Interested businesses could stay in the location for three months rent-free, only required to pay utilities, common area maintenance and taxes. The business that is chosen would also get $20,000 in interior design, setup and merchandising support, as well as a marketing campaign initiated by the Downtown Denver Partnership.  

“This is a program that’s designed to give them a runway to success. And our ultimate goal is for the tenants that are selected for these spaces to really convert to long-term lease-paying tenants for participating property owners,” Wiebenson said. “So the property owners have taken a leap of faith.”

Part of the hope is to curb crime and boost business.  

“There are a lot of really great reasons for people to come back downtown. and positive energy tends to push out negative activities,” Wiebenson said. “We want them to be bringing in lots of people and to have a wonderful customer base. and so that’s one criterion that will help existing businesses.”  

How to apply to the Popup Denver program

Thirty-two businesses have already jumped on the opportunity. Tap to learn more and apply.

After the application period closes at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 4, the Popup Denver selection committee will score each submittal based on the program selection criteria. 

The committee will choose three businesses for each space to present their popup concepts. They are expected to be in March, and after working with the downtown partners for setup and design, the goal is for all five spaces to be open by June 1.

There will be an informational session on the program on Feb. 14 from 10-11 a.m. and on Feb. 17 from 2-3 p.m.