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Downtown Boulder: We can believe in magic, but it takes more than magical thinking to activate downtown Boulder

Category: Boulder Blog

Spring has come to downtown Boulder and that means one thing: tulips. It’s my first tulip season, and they are truly spectacular. Catch them while you can. As if by magic, they spring forth from the ground, ushering in the change of season. But of course, it isn’t magic; it’s because of the hard work of the city of Boulder’s Parks and Recreation team who plant and maintain them, and the Downtown Boulder ambassadors who ensure the surrounding environs are well-tended.

Thousands of tulip fans came dressed in sparkly garb for the Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival on Sunday, April 28. The Pearl Street Mall hosted diverse and engaging performances and creative activities for magical beings of all ages. But, of course, that magical afternoon took lots of coordination behind the scenes — thanks to Downtown Boulder Community Initiatives and the support of sponsors. Magic doesn’t just happen. It’s made by people.

And while the tulips reach up toward the sun, if you follow their trajectory, you’ll see many “for lease” signs in the upper-story office spaces above our (thankfully!) bustling storefront shops and restaurants at street level. The good news is that we are talking about it; we aren’t just engaging in magical thinking; we’re being strategic about how to fill the spaces.

I’ll share two recent examples of forward movement. Last Thursday morning, enthusiastic downtown supporters packed eTown for our Spring Town Hall, where we shared updates on our programs and our efforts to support downtown businesses, learned from our partners at the city of Boulder about visitation downtown using a powerful tool called, which shows 3.1 million annual visitors to the Pearl Street Mall, and had a rapid-fire panel discussion with local property-owner/developers Stephen Tebo of Tebo Properties, Daniel Aizenman of Conscience Bay Company and Billy Woodward of Unico Properties. They were joined by director of city planning and development Brad Mueller. All discussed the city’s efforts to expedite processes and update building codes so that space can be re-tenanted more efficiently and more creatively. Panel moderator Danica Powell of Trestle Strategy Group raised questions about how small businesses can be supported equitably and encouraged panelists to share courageous ideas for bringing people back to work downtown, which will support all types of business, including restaurants and retail.

The second example happened later that night at City Council, where they announced they will be prioritizing “the creation of an economic development plan and related program and tool enhancements to support a more robust city role in overall economic vitality. There were several aspects to this priority including, but not limited to, addressing commercial vacancies through incentives, permitting and other measures, updating the Economic Sustainability Strategy (ESS), continuing and broadening small business support and business recruitment.” Bravo!

The property owners are rolling up their sleeves, making concessions and eager to be part of the solution. The city’s committed. Let’s do what it takes to fill the spaces, with knowledge workers, artists, services, therapists, housing … anything human-centered. Because where the people are? That’s where the real magic happens. Together.

Bettina Swigger, CEO of Downtown Boulder Partnership, is deeply interested in public space and the intersection of creativity, commerce and community.

This article was originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera on May 5, 2024.

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