Denver city officials would exercise most of the control over a new National Western Center campus authority under a proposed 50-year agreement that was unveiled Tuesday for the $1.1 billion project.
The city and its main partners have talked for two years or more about some of the aspects wrapped into the new collection of documents, but others are fleshed out for the first time — including how they would handle naming rights, split event-booking duties to make the center profitable and set up a community investment fund to help the area’s downtrodden neighborhoods.
With two potential 25-year renewals, the “framework agreement” could chart the course of the expanded campus for a century.
The contract has been inked with the city’s main project partners: the Western Stock Show Association, which has run the annual stock show and rodeo on the site for 111 years, and Colorado State University, which hopes to tie in its academic programs, open a sports medicine clinic for horses and help make the campus into an agricultural innovation center that aids Colorado’s food industry.
Mayor Michael Hancock’s Office of the National Western Center submitted the binder-filling agreement to the City Council this week and provided a media briefing.
The council’s land use committee advanced the proposed arrangement Tuesday morning, making it eligible for a final vote as soon as Sept. 18.
Approval would set in motion the standing up of the campus authority, the start of construction and the eventual transformation of the stock show site into a year-round tourism, event, education and agricultural center under a 10-year master plan adopted in early 2015.
That plan calls first for huge, new equestrian and livestock centers and new stockyards that double as a city festival park, along with environmental cleanup, infrastructure improvements and South Platte Riverfront revitalization. An unfunded later phase — which could rely on public-private partnerships — calls for a new 10,000-seat arena to replace the Denver Coliseum, an expo center and the retrofitting of the 1909 Stadium Arena to turn it into a market.
But the complex arrangement, while discussed in outline for a long time, still faces skepticism from some council members and community groups — especially in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood that is home to the stock show complex.
Some residents are wary of the disruption coming from years of construction on the project at the same time the state plans to widen Interstate 70 through the area. They also have questioned whether the neighborhood will share in the economic benefits that come from several large new facilities and a projected boost of 100 more events a year that could drive an increase of 1.1 million annual visitors, nearly double today’s total.
Council President Albus Brooks, whose District 9 includes the National Western project area, and other committee members urged Hancock’s project czar, Kelly Leid, to take extra pains to address public questions in coming weeks.
“Without this agreement, it’s nearly impossible for us now to take the next step,” said Leid, the executive director of the NWC office.
Here is a look at the major components of the framework agreement:
City would own most land — and get most control
Ownership: The Stock Show Association plans to turn over its 91 acres to the city, which would own most of the 250 acres still being amassed for the campus (with a handful of property owner holdouts still facing eminent-domain proceedings). The city could sell a combined 12 to 15 acres to its partners for three CSU buildings and for a “Legacy Building” the association is considering constructing to house memorabilia and Western art.
New authority: By next June, the city and its partners plan to set up a National Western Center Authority that would operate the campus. For its 11-member board, the Denver mayor would get seven appointments (with council confirmation), including one who must be a resident of the community; none of those appointees could be city employees or elected officials. CSU and the Stock Show Association each would get two appointments to the board, and the city’s chief financial officer would serve as a nonvoting treasurer.
The mayor would select the board chair while the first phases of construction are underway, and each member would serve staggered five-year terms.
Authority budget: Though city officials and their partners envision the authority as self-sustaining from event-booking revenue, initially they would kick in a total of $1.5 million — with 60 percent provided by the city, and the rest split by the other two partners — for its costs, including the hiring of a president and CEO. Income in later years could used to repay those up-front advances. A seat tax long collected by the city on the stock show site would help pay for maintenance costs.
Event booking: The authority would be responsible for booking most events in the center’s buildings. But stock show president and CEO Paul Andrews said his outfit, drawing on his staff’s expertise, would have priority for booking new livestock, equestrian and rodeo events.
Money matters in the project
Project funding: In November 2015, Denver voters approved lodger’s and car rental tax extensions that were projected to raise $476 million toward the $856 million master plan, with other money coming from a $121.5 million authorization from the state under the Regional Tourism Act, $50 million the Stock Show Association has pledged to raise by 2020 and $16 million from CSU for the equine clinic. But city CFO Brendan Hanlon said this week that his office now projects the visitor taxes will generate $622 million; that significantly narrows what once had been a $193 million gap to $47 million.
However, Hanlon and Leid cautioned that they were still finalizing a firmer project budget for release in October.
CSU projects: Separate from the master plan, CSU plans two other buildings — a water resources center (planned with Denver Water) and the CSU Center. Two years ago, state lawmakers approved $250 million in financing for CSU, $200 million of which is for the National Western Center.
Naming rights: For the new city-owned buildings, the agreement would exempt the campus from a city naming rights ordinance that requires council approval. Instead, the mayor or a designee would be able to sign off on naming rights. The agreement gives the Stock Show Association the ability to sell philanthropic and corporate naming rights and sponsorships for the new livestock and equestrian centers and the stockyards, but the city would receive 15 percent of building-related sponsorships. CSU would have control of naming rights for its buildings.
Community investment fund: Though details are still scant, the agreement includes a fund for community support that would receive money raised through a “round-up” program that food and retail vendors on the campus would be required to offer to customers. That means customers would get the option of rounding up their purchase to the nearest dollar to donate to the fund.
When would buildings start going up?
Tentative schedule: The new agreement lays out a timeline that calls for major site preparation work to get underway in 2018, including demolition, environmental cleanup, reconstruction of Brighton Boulevard north of I-70 and railroad consolidation.
In 2019, work could begin on the stockyards along with new roads, bridges, tunnels and utilities on the campus. Construction would begin in early 2021 on the livestock and equestrian centers, about the time CSU breaks ground on its first two buildings. Major work could wrap up in 2023 — or potentially earlier, Leid said. But the arena and expo center projects, if pursued by the city, may take longer.
Construction jobs: Projections by the city put the number of construction jobs at 6,400, paying wages exceeding $420 million over the life of the project. Discussions are underway on a potential local-hiring component and collaboration with a job-training center set up for the I-70 project.
Economic impact: Once the National Western Center is built out, a study done for the city projected $100 million a year in increased spending by visitors drawn to roughly 100 new events, plus the creation of 1,500 service and hospitality jobs. The city also projects that the campus’ focus on promoting innovation could aid the startup or expansion of 300 to 350 businesses in the agribusiness sector, yielding 7,500-1000 new jobs.
Here is a summary of the framework agreement that was produced by the mayor’s Office of the National Western Center: