by Larry Harte
Glendale has changed a lot since September 1999 when I moved here. I lived alone. No wife, no children. I had some good friends that lived in the Denver area, but none of them lived near Glendale.
I was attracted to the area because of the Cherry Creek Trail and the proximity to Washington Park and the Cherry Creek shopping area. Whole Foods (Alfalfa’s back then) and Target were both an easy walk away. I noticed quickly that everything I needed was within walking distance. With so many things so accessible, it seemed like a college campus.
After settling into a condo for rent, I didn’t know I was living in Glendale until about two weeks later when Joe Haskins called saying that I had been robbed. I didn’t know Joe. He was a Glendale Police Officer (now a Lieutenant). Oddly enough, he was calling from my living room, as the thief had broken a window to gain access into the unit. Hello Glendale.
Do you remember the first time you ever walked into the Bull & Bush? I wandered in there one night during the World Series not knowing anything about the place. A dark room, a bunch of TVs, lots of people, good food and the best part: they make their own beer. Unbelievable. This was the greatest pub I’d ever seen. And I lived about two blocks away. Glendale was getting better all the time!
Many people ask, “How did you get into politics?” I didn’t. Politics got into me just by being around the right people. Joining the Greater Glendale Chamber of Commerce helped me meet many of those people. All I really wanted to do was “hang out” with Dan Fox and some other friends, but in a small town like Glendale it’s easy to find yourself sitting among people with significant influence. Mark Smiley, Chuck Bonniwell, Mike Dunafon, Debbie Matthews, Ricky King and others became friends and soon I was asking questions about how things worked in Glendale.
In January 2002, some people approached me and asked if I would be interested in running for a seat on the Glendale City Council. My first thought was, “You’ve got to be kidding — I’ve never even been to a city council meeting. I didn’t even know what they were. Or what they did.” Not only that, but I really didn’t have any interest. That changed though. I called up the mayor, Joe Rice, and asked if I could buy him a beer to discuss what it was like being on the city council. So we met at Las Delicias and he made it sound pretty interesting! I was intrigued.
Two weeks later, I became the sixth person to enter the race for three seats on the Glendale City Council. The only election I had ever been in before was in college for our fraternity “Kitchen Manager.” (I won — and that was a great gig.) What I heard around town was, “How could someone like Larry Harte get elected? No one knows who he is.” That was very motivating. Of the six candidates, two were incumbents who were heavily favored; two had years of connections in Glendale and two of us were unknowns.
For the next two months we walked around every apartment, condo and townhome in Glendale knocking on doors, waiting at mailboxes and looking for people to talk to anywhere we could. And then there was an election. The two unknowns won thanks to support from the Chamber of Commerce and a lot of hard work by a lot of friends. (The two incumbents lost and one of the others won).
Change doesn’t happen easily in any city. Over time, we were able to take a dysfunctional city council and turn it into a productive one. We learned how to make things happen and get things done.
With help from new City Manager Cliff Dodge, we put together a matrix of things to do in Glendale and asked, “What can we agree on?” Things that were unanimous became the highest priority. It became a “to do list” of 12 items and every one of them was accomplished. The list included little things like create a new conference room in city hall and redecorate the city council room, to bigger things like buy land and develop Playa del Carmen Park. This was an important process because it showed that we could find ways to work together.
Looking back, I am most proud of the culture of community that has been created in Glendale. We have been able to get the residents, the businesses and the local government to work together to support a vision of improvement. Glendale has been a community since as far back as 1859. It was first settled as a stop along the Cherokee Trail. The Four Mile Historic Park has Colorado’s oldest house and exists today as a testament to that era. After incorporating as a city in 1952, Glendale grew and became the most lively entertainment area in the Denver area. But by the early 1990s things had changed and the city lost much of its identity and character. By 2002 there was an opportunity to redefine the community of Glendale. At first it was a dream. Then it became our goal.
At a U2 concert, I once heard Bono say, “To be united is a great thing, but to respect differences, even a greater thing.” That’s Glendale. Glendale is the most diverse city imaginable. There are more than two dozen languages spoken in a city that’s only about half of a square mile. Despite our cultural differences, we agree on things people in small towns have always agreed on: provide safe streets, support and educate children, celebrate family values, maintain parks and have a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Parks needed to be improved so we built two new ones, expanded a third, and now we have a park in each quadrant of the city.
But all these things only work if the businesses can thrive. The City Council worked with the Chamber of Commerce to create an Urban Renewal District to promote entrepreneurship and encourage businesses to be involved with the local government. Take a look at the developments and re-developments that have happened since then: Target, Applebee’s, Hilton Garden Inn and CitySet, 1000 South Colorado Blvd., King Soopers, several office buildings and about a dozen apartment buildings.
There were some tricky times but if you don’t fight for what’s right, you won’t gain people’s respect. Some of these projects took years to materialize because we wouldn’t compromise our unique Glendale principles.
It’s important to point out the impact of the police department. Working with the city council and staff, Chief Vic Ross ushered in a new vision of pro-active, positive, community-oriented policing. Trust a police officer in Glendale? You bet. “Protect and serve” — absolutely.
Have you been to the Glendale Sports Center and YMCA? In 2003, we asked them to partner with us and the Glendale YMCA was born. Nearly 25 percent of Glendale’s population lives at or below the poverty level. The Y brought programs and opportunities that families probably wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise.
In the future, we want to make Glendale an international destination. Rugby has branded Glendale as “Rugbytown USA.” Some of the international matches played in Glendale have been broadcast to tens of millions of homes around the world. Let’s promote Colorado to those people watching. Let’s get them here. Tourism is a huge part of the Colorado economy and we believe we have something to contribute. Add an entertainment-oriented “Riverwalk” to the mix and then people have something else to do when they visit. Think of San Antonio with a Times Square attitude. Plus, it complements the high-end retail next door in Cherry Creek.
My career as the mayor ends on April 9 due to term limits — certainly not because of a lack of interest. We have exciting people moving onto the City Council. New mayor Mike Dunafon has been like a big brother to me. He’s been the Mayor Pro-Tem, the Chair of the Planning Commission and led the strategic planning initiative. He’s been more involved with Glendale than anyone over the past 15 years. And City Manager Jerry Peters isn’t going anywhere. He’s a first-class guy who knows the value of relationships and getting things done.
Thank you for your massive support and cooperation. I have enjoyed every minute of being the mayor.
What is next? I’ll continue to be active in Glendale as the Director of the Chamber of Commerce with economic development and with government relations. There’s plenty to do to keep this community growing. The last 10 years have been magical. But with the foundation that has been laid, the best is yet to come. The dream lives on…