Desperate city officials in Denver are now paying businesses to occupy vacant storefronts in one of the city’s most crime-ravaged districts.  

The Downtown Denver Partnership and the city’s Department of Economic Development and Opportunity announced the launch of the Pop-up Denver Program last week. 

Selected businesses could enjoy up to three months of free rent and a $20,000 award to use for interior design and setup expenses and merchandising support. 

Only five businesses will be given the vacant spaces Downtown on the intersection of 16th Street and Champa, one of the most concentrated pockets of drugs and violent crime in the city. 

In 2021, more than 53 drug-related crimes were reported in the area, amid an overall crime surge in the Mile-High City, where robberies are now up 75percent and drug-related crimes are up 26.8 percent in the year to date compared to the same period last year. 

In an attempt to tackle the effects of the pandemic and the spike in crime, four of the spaces are destined for retail activation, while one of the storefronts will be occupied by an art-based business. 

Proponents hope the initiative helps to ‘reimagine downtown one storefront at a time,’ and brings long-term paying tenants. 

‘This is a program that’s designed to give them a runway to success,’ Sarah Wiebenson, senior manager of economic development with the Downtown Denver Partnership, told Fox31.  

‘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,’ she added.    

The Downtown Denver Partnership and the city's Department of Economic Development and Opportunity announced the launch of the Pop-up Denver Program. Five businesses will be given a vacant storefront along 16th Street and Champa and $20,000

The Downtown Denver Partnership and the city’s Department of Economic Development and Opportunity announced the launch of the Pop-up Denver Program. Five businesses will be given a vacant storefront along 16th Street and Champa and $20,000 

In the Mile-High City, robberies are now up 75percent and drug-related crimes are up 26.8 percent in the year to date compared to the same period last year

In the Mile-High City, robberies are now up 75percent and drug-related crimes are up 26.8 percent in the year to date compared to the same period last year

In Denver, drug-related crimes are up 26.8 percent in the year to date compared to the same period last year

In Denver, drug-related crimes are up 26.8 percent in the year to date compared to the same period last year

The storefronts up for grabs were formerly a Krispy-Kreme, a Starbucks, a TCF Bank, a beauty salon and a bagel store, which were forced to close due to a staggering spike in crime and a pandemic-related lack of demand.

The businesses that do remain open in the crime-ridden area are not unfamiliar with those challenges, as they have struggled to stay afloat and have seen their profits decrease.  

‘We were heavily, heavily impacted by COVID,’ Derek Friedman, owner of The Sports Fan, a store located in the area, told Fox 31.

‘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,’ he added. 

Friedman attributed  the surge in crime to the lack of police presence in the area. 

‘We’ve seen a significant amount of crime at those particular stores,’ Friedman said.

‘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.’   

After calls to defund the police prompted by 2020’s summer of unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Denver was forced to refund its police department as violent crime surged. 

The city’s budget passed in November increased spending on police to $265million, Axios Denver reported. 

'This is a program that's designed to give them a runway to success,' Sarah Wiebenson, senior manager of economic development with the Downtown Denver Partnership, said

‘This is a program that’s designed to give them a runway to success,’ Sarah Wiebenson, senior manager of economic development with the Downtown Denver Partnership, said 

Proponents hope the initiative helps to 'reimagine downtown one storefront at a time,' and brings long-term paying tenants

Proponents hope the initiative helps to ‘reimagine downtown one storefront at a time,’ and brings long-term paying tenants

Only five businesses will be given the vacant spaces on the intersection of 16th Street and Champa, one of the most concentrated pockets of drugs and violent crime in the city

Only five businesses will be given the vacant spaces on the intersection of 16th Street and Champa, one of the most concentrated pockets of drugs and violent crime in the city

Sarah Wiebenson, with the Downtown Denver Partnership, said the idea came to life after they realized the number of vacant storefronts along 16th Street.  

‘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,’ Wiebenson said.   

The five chosen businesses could save up to three months of rent, and will be awarded $20,000 to spend on interior design, setup and merchandising support. 

The stores will be required to pay for utilities, common area maintenance and taxes during that period.  

They will also have their marketing campaigns overseen by the Downtown Denver Partnership.    

Businesses interested in the initiative have until 5pm on March 4 to apply. A committee will then choose three businesses per store and will hear pitches about what they plan to do with the space.   

All five spaces are expected to be open by June 1, according to the Pop-Up Denver website.  

'We were heavily, heavily impacted by COVID,' Derek Friedman, owner of The Sports Fan, a store located in the area. Friedman also blames the surge in crime on the lack of police presence in the area

‘We were heavily, heavily impacted by COVID,’ Derek Friedman, owner of The Sports Fan, a store located in the area. Friedman also blames the surge in crime on the lack of police presence in the area 

The area in downtown Denver is one of the most concentrated pockets of crime in the city

The area in downtown Denver is one of the most concentrated pockets of crime in the city 

‘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.’ 

From 2017 to 2020, between 10 and 30 drug and alcohol-related crimes were reported per year, but that changed in 2021, with more than 89 incidents of the sort reported.   

In Denver, overall violent crimes are up 19.4percent in the year to date compared to the same period in 2021, the Denver Post reported. 

Serious assault is up 4percent, with 210 so far this year, and 202 in the same period last year.   

Robberies are up 75percent, car thefts have increased 18.3percent and drug crimes are up by 26.8percent. 

Domestic violence crimes have decreased by 9.8percent, while burglaries and bike thefts are down 26.9percent and 59.2percent, respectively.  

Lyndon McLeod, 47, shot and killed five on a violent rampage in December. He was gunned down by police

Lyndon McLeod, 47, shot and killed five on a violent rampage in December. He was gunned down by police  

Last year, Denver saw a string of gruesome crimes that left residents and authorities alike worried. In December, a gunman with a history of extremist views and psychiatric episodes shot and killed five

 Last year, Denver saw a string of gruesome crimes that left residents and authorities alike worried. In December, a gunman with a history of extremist views and psychiatric episodes shot and killed five

Last year, Denver saw a string of gruesome crimes that left residents and authorities alike worried. 

In October, an Uber driver was stabbed multiple times after he told a group of teens they would not all be able to fit into his car.

The victim was called to South Broadway and Evans Avenue in Denver.

The adult driver got into a verbal altercation with the young group after he advised them that he would not be able to fit them all. He was then stabbed by the male teens when their altercation escalated into violence.

The driver was stabbed at least twice in the back and stomach, according to the Denver Police Department. 

In December, a gunman with a history of extremist views and psychiatric episodes shot and killed five. 

Lyndon McLeod, 47, was shot and killed by officers at the end of his rampage across tattoo parlors. 

McLeod used to own a tattoo business, Flat Black Ink, until 2017, ABC reported. His rampage targeted several tattoo shops, and three of his five victims worked in the tattoo industry.   

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, has pledged to address the spike in crime, and released a Public Safety Action Plan. 

‘I’m not going to allow this to continue to happen on my watch,’ Hancock said on Thursday. ‘But I also realize this is a marathon, not a sprint.’  

By Sia