Wellington Webb stands in the shade on the sidewalk at Commons Park along the South Platte River behind Denver Union Station, joggers loping by on the paths, cars nosing their way toward parking, as a young couple at the base of the distinctive Denver Millennium Bridge across the street calls out and waves.
“Mayor! Mayor!” they say, bursting with smiles.
Webb nods and waves back, returning the smiles, and then turns his gaze to the park — part of more than 2,000 acres of new parks and open space created in the city during his 12 years as mayor — and then hooks his thumb over his shoulder.
“This is a special place for me,” says Webb, Denver’s first African-American mayor, serving three terms beginning in 1991. “Union Station, that’s where I arrived on a train from Chicago, when I was a kid, an asthmatic, 97-pound weakling.” He laughs and shrugs, then spreads his arms wide toward the park. “And here I am, all these years later, all 270 pounds of me, and there’s this park — Denver’s past, Denver’s future.”
Commons Park, a several-block stretch of landscaped greenery, hugs the river not far from the city’s redeveloped transit hub on the site of the old railroad station, with a forest of gleaming new buildings sprung up between them. It’s the result of a land swap Webb recalled engineering over drinks.
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