If it survives a Monday night vote, a ballot measure that could bring a motorsports venue to northeast Aurora might owe its political life to the wind-swept isolation that marks the outskirts of the city.
And to a few, carefully crafted words in the measure designed to ease homeowners’ fears about living next door to a noisy track.
“No less than one-half mile.”
That language specifies the minimum distance any Aurora home would be from a proposed entertainment district, one that that could include a world-class racetrack and other amenities. The City Council will decide Monday whether to send the proposal to voters in November.
The distant location of the proposed district — on 1,700 acres north of Interstate 70 and east of Hudson Road — represents a lesson learned from a failed but similar proposal two years ago that neglected to specify a location, said Wendy Mitchell, president and CEO of the Aurora Economic Development Council.
“This time, we wanted to assure people that we would not plop the development in the middle of a neighborhood,” Mitchell said.
The envisioned site — a swath of city-owned land between Denver International Airport and Front Range Airport — is notable for its solitude and quiet. It’s at least a dozen miles removed from Aurora’s civic center, and only the distant thrum of northbound planes heading into DIA competes with the birds and grasshoppers sounding off in the vast farm fields lining Hudson Road.
“There’s a lot of room out there where it might go, but none of it is close to residential,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said. “It’s definitely an area of opportunity.”
That opportunity could come in the form of restaurants, outlet stores, nightclubs, comedy clubs and, of course, a racetrack, Hogan said. No negotiations have begun with any developers, he said, and the vote this fall would just be a first step to further solidifying Aurora’s largely vacant northeast quadrant as the next big growth area for the city of 360,000.
“All the ballot issue does is allow for things to happen,” the mayor said. “It doesn’t guarantee that things will happen.”
While the area along Hudson Road currently shows no trace of city living, that likely won’t stay the case as rapid growth in the metro area continues pushing new developments east into Aurora’s outer fringes. Already the mammoth 1,500-room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, just a few miles to the west of the proposed entertainment district site, is set to open next year.
Hogan said former city councils had foresight in recognizing where the city’s growth would occur.
“They knew that someday this area would be critical to the long-term future of the city,” he said.
The idea of a racetrack in Aurora isn’t new. In 1999, voters denied a plan to build a racetrack near Interstate 70 and E-470. Ten years later, a developer pitched a $200 million plan to build a massive auto racing complex closer to Front Range Airport that would seat 65,000 to 100,000.
With the nearest NASCAR-style venues located in Kansas, Texas and Arizona, Mitchell said, Aurora could become a powerful draw for auto racing enthusiasts throughout the Rocky Mountain region — especially with its proximity to DIA and the Gaylord hotel complex. It wouldn’t have to rely on customers from the metro area.
“We’re trying to be creative and capture that market,” she said.
If a model exists for an Aurora entertainment district, Mitchell said, it would likely be the Plaza at the Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., which boasts 850,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, the Kansas Speedway and the Kansas City T-Bones minor-league baseball team.
“You have to come up with an experience,” she said.
But Charlie Richardson said he’s a “no” on the ballot referral, one of two Aurora council members to vote against it two weeks ago on first reading.
“This ballot question is obnoxiously misleading, and I’m offended by it,” he said. “It doesn’t say anywhere what it’s trying to do.”
The effect of passing the measure, Richardson said, would be to eliminate the 1999 decision by voters that banned the city from giving subsidies to motorsports facilities. That in turn could lead the city to enter into deals that would behoove developers at the expense of taxpayers — in particular, using public funds to help construct a racetrack.
He said city leaders need to be able to gauge a specific proposal to see just how taxes in the new district would be raised and how they would be spent.
“We’re being asked to set the stage when we don’t even have anything firm in front of us,” Richardson said. “Let’s be honest with the voters.”