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Posted: December 02, 2008

ColoradoBiz Q&A

Tracy Huggins, executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority

Mike Cote

!! The thousands of people who visited Denver this summer for the Democratic National Convention encountered a city that no longer rolls up the carpet at 5 p.m. The Denver Urban Renewal Authority has been behind many of the projects that have led to that renaissance, bringing new retail, lodging and housing downtown. (Watch video interview with Tracy Huggins) Since 2000, Tracy Huggins has served as executive director of the authority, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Since 1958, DURA has provided more than $649 million in tax increment financing for more than 75 projects valued at more than $7.1 billion. The authority has been a catalyst behind such projects as the Denver Pavilions, the Denver Dry Building, the former Adam’s Mark Hotel (now Sheraton Denver), Elitch Gardens and the Lowenstein Theatre. It also helped finance the Lowry and Stapleton developments and Highlands’ Garden Village. We talked to Huggins recently about DURA’s achievements. *The Denver Urban Renewal Authority celebrates 50 years. What do you consider some of its greatest successes?* I think one of the unique things about DURA’s 50 years is the efforts they undertook in some of the earlier years and the foundation that those efforts laid for the transformation of downtown Denver.

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You look at the pictures of slums, truly dilapidated housing that existed right in our city core and what an impediment that was to really turning Denver into a modern city. DURA played a really significant role in being the facilitators through which those challenges were addressed. The renovation of Denver Dry Goods (first phase completed 1993) was absolutely at the top of the list of important projects, knowing that downtown Denver was really in a very serious state of decline. We had lost all of the department stores from downtown. Office vacancies were very high. I really believe had the Denver Dry project not been successful, we would have not seen the same level of investment that did occur during that same time period. *DURA provides low-interest loans to low-income homeowners. How has that work been affected by the downturn in the housing market and the current credit crunch?* It has some impact in that we get our funding from the city and county of Denver through the federal awards that they get, Community Development Block Grant monies, but also from the recycling of the loans that had previously been paid. When a homeowner pays those loans off, DURA is able to redeploy those resources. What we are finding is people are not refinancing, and they are not paying off those loans at the pace that they had been previously, so that has had some impact on the available funding that we have. That makes it harder for us to help additional families. *We’re facing some challenging economic times. How will DURA help the city keep its economy strong? What types of projects do you foresee?* DURA works best when we are able to implement a broader city vision. That vision is currently being shaped particularly as it pertains to downtown. There’s been a lot of discussion and progress toward looking at some of the other numbered streets other than 16th Street - the 14th Street initiative is trying to address some of the challenges there; 15th, I think, is next. As the city further defines the vision for downtown, DURA will continue to stand ready to be that participant to bridge that public sector vision with that private-sector investment potential to make those changes come about.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at

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