The Denver City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee is deliberating Tuesday afternoon on what projects to include in a proposed $450 million bond package that voters will be asked to approve in November.
As a former Denver city council member, I understand and appreciate the challenges and pressures in selecting projects to be included in bond packages. Debate is often intense as members fight over limited bond funds on a variety of worthy projects. It’s ultimately up to 13 council members to narrow the list and finalize projects presented to voters.
Eleven of the 13 Denver city council members represent geographical districts and the natural inclination is for members to “bring home the bacon” to their district. Major projects always require a large percentage of the bond money and can face uphill battles.
The biggest project up for consideration is the building of a new multipurpose 10,000-seat stock show arena which will replace the aging Denver Coliseum. Included in this package are funds designated to renovate the 1909 Stadium Building into a public food market, similar to Pike’s Market in Seattle.
Both of these proposals have generated lots of interest, but arena misinformation must be addressed.
A major hang-up is the title: “stock show arena.” For some, that implies the arena will only be used for rodeos during the January stock show. That’s simply not true.
This new multi-use facility will benefit the entire community, operating year-round and hosting hundreds of events: car and garden shows, girls and boys high school basketball tournaments, minor league sports, concerts and other family entertainment.
The arena will be the centerpiece for the new and expanding National Western Center, a major investment approved by Denver voters in 2015 when they passed ballot measure 2C extending the lodging and car rental tax that was set to expire.
The results from the 2015 campaign were nothing short of a political miracle: every precinct in every city council district showed support by 50-plus percent for the master plan.
The National Western Campus is doubling in size and is currently undergoing an ambitious expansion to create a global destination for agriculture and food innovation, and Western heritage and culture. The new campus will attract local, national and international visitors. It is expected to open in about three years and the new arena is vital in helping the complex generate its own revenue.
A feasibility study conducted before the 2015 bond election projected that the National Western Center would have a $230 million annual economic impact. The study projected more than 300 events per year, with a large portion coming from the new arena. Without the arena, those numbers are impossible to attain.
Longtime councilwoman-at-large Debbie Ortega has a lifelong affection for the stock show and is a big supporter of putting the arena and the public food market on the November ballot.
“The arena is our moneymaker and we have to have it. I’m really excited about funds to rehab the Stadium Building. This market will open doors to healthy, fresh foods and provide opportunities for hundreds of small businesses,” she said.
Now is a good time to use bond funds for these projects. It won’t raise taxes, plus we can take advantage of low-interest rates, leverage the city’s excellent credit ratings and help our economy recover.
The good news is that Denver citizens are on board. A June 2021 poll (1,000 respondents, 90 in each council district, 3.1% margin of error ) revealed that 74% of Denver voters want the stock show arena on the November ballot.
That’s not surprising. The stock show is a beloved, 116-year-old Denver institution that is part of our heritage. It’s an enticing destination that connects people to agriculture and the American West. The 2019 January show attracted more than 700,000 visitors and had an economic impact of $120 million.
The arena and public food market are facilities that will benefit all of Denver and that’s why three of four voters want them on the November bond ballot. I have faith in this council and believe they will listen to their constituents, do the right thing and let the voters decide the fate of these worthy projects this November.
Charlie Brown served more than 14 years on Denver City Council. He fought the proposed stock show move to Aurora in 2011, confirming his reputation as the “cowboy councilman.”