Posted: August 01, 2011
Rundles wrap-up: The A-wordBy Jeff Rundles
The news that Gaylord Entertainment is planning to build an $800 million-plus hotel, entertainment and meeting facility in Colorado - in Aurora near Denver International Airport - is a welcome economic development coup.
I have stayed in several Gaylord properties over the years, including Opryland, and I can attest to the company's quality and value.
I don't buy the argument, put forward by some downtown Denver interests, that the addition of such a large complex and its corporate business-meeting model will hurt the downtown convention business.
True, the Gaylord model is to capture guests and keep them pretty much within the property, so it is possible the direct economic benefit will be narrow. However, when the visitors see the Rocky Mountains and the downtown Denver skyline they will be helpless in succumbing to the lure, either on that visit or the inevitable next one.
The whole Gaylord deal is wrapped up in a proposal to move the National Western Stock Show from its historic location in Denver near downtown off I-70 to a larger tract of land, also in Aurora. While the two moves aren't dependent upon each other - Gaylord has said it will build regardless of what the stock show does, depending upon some subsidy financing and options coming through - both projects are almost always discussed in the same context.
Originally the stock show was considering a site within the city and county of Denver adjacent to the Gaylord property, but there appear to be some issues with the FAA and airport operations that squelched that proposal. So Aurora comes up roses.
However, moving the stock show to any location (it says it needs a bigger site for expansion and modernization) would require some fancy financing techniques to accomplish, including the passage of a tax hike for Denver citizens to float $150 million worth of development bonds. A tax hike being passed now, or for that matter for the foreseeable future, is a highly unlikely event under the best of circumstances, but already the stars are in a weird and highly negative alignment.
I couldn't care less whether the stock show stays in Denver proper or moves to Aurora, or for that matter moves to Highlands Ranch, because the economic impact from its main two-week event in January will always be an enormous benefit to the entire region. And Denver, through an agreement with Aurora and state financing assistance under the new Colorado Regional Tourism Act, will share the revenues.
I don't see any of this happening, though. While the stock show's plan requires the voters in Denver to approve a tax hike, no such levy would be forthcoming for the residents of Aurora. Aurorans would provide city financing mechanisms, but no new taxes, and that is unfair on its face. Plus, since it would, presumably, benefit the entire region - and some of the financing is from state funds for regional tourism impact - it is also unfair that Highlands Ranch, Thornton, et al, won't be asked to pay additional taxes either. We have a regional tax model in RTD, but to propose such a solution would require the creation of a new tax district, and that is a virtual impossibility.
As usual, when an entity like the stock show - think the Rockies, the Broncos - comes a-callin' for tax help, it is a virtual certainty that the power brokers, the mayor, the chamber and, of course, Aurora officials, will be all over it. It would be unlikely even if it appeared to be a good deal for Denver residents. And it may be financially.
But so far on a psychological and ethereal basis it makes as much sense for this old Cow Town as mad cow disease.
I have a plan to ameliorate the situation. Aurora, ever the step-child with an inferiority complex, placed a clause in the Gaylord deal preventing Gaylord from using the D-word - Denver - in the official name of its new complex. As our part of the deal we should demand that the D-word must be permanently attached to the National Western, as in The Denver National Western Stock Show, if it is approved and located in Aurora.
Or at the very least limit the A-word to the epithets being bandied about now concerning the tax hike proposal.
Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at email@example.com.