Mayor Michael Hancock wants to make a deal with citizens: You approve a $450 million bond package and in return, you’ll get a new 10,000-seat arena at the National Western Center, a public market, a renovated theater, shelter space for the unhoused and dozens more projects for parks and roads.
First hinted at in the spring and more formally proposed this week in the State of the City speech and at a city council committee meeting, the spending package needs the council’s approval next month before it can go to voters in November. Officials say the bonding package would appear in at least four different ballot questions.
Denverites would spend $160 million on the arena — a third of the bonding proposal and a portion of the overall cost. About $25 million would come from revenues from a 2015 voter-approved ballot measure, while another roughly $25 million would come from what the city calls “partners” — including Colorado State University, the National Western Stock Show and the National Western Center.
Hancock told The Denver Post this week it is fair for the city to put the bulk of arena spending to voters, and important to demonstrate to the investors that the citizenry has “skin in the game.”
The 70-year-old Denver Coliseum may not go away, though, said Jenna Espinoza, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office who works on the National Western Center project.
“We’re not going to be demolishing the Coliseum to replace it physically with this arena. The arena would be built and the events taking place in the Coliseum currently would be moved over, but the actual future of the Coliseum itself remains undetermined at this time,” said Espinoza, who argued Denver needs an arena of this size to “compete” nationally for concerts, expos and other events.
Hancock’s allies are pressing for community buy-in for the arena. A group called Friends of the National Western Center, registered to an agent of the municipal lobbying firm CRL Associates, is sending out mailers that anticipate pushback from council members.
“Unlike you, some members don’t share our love for the stock show and are dead set on striking he proposed arena from the ballot,” that mailer said.
At a council committee hearing Tuesday, Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said of those mailers, “That was certainly an interesting way to try to get us to buy into something, by talking smack about us all over town.”
Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, whose district includes the National Western Center, said Hancock’s allies are right to expect opposition.
“My community is very concerned about $160 million of this going to an arena when we haven’t even gotten the community benefits agreement nailed down,” she said at the hearing.
She believes recent years of construction on the National Western Center campus have yielded “nothing that has gone back to community.”
“It’s very hard for me to see this being the largest chunk of what we’re asking for.”
The rest of the request
The remainder of the bonding proposal spans zip codes and purposes — the product of what city officials touted as an extensive “public engagement” process.
Residents told them housing security was the most important aspect of Denver’s economic recovery from the pandemic. But only about 9% of the spending in Hancock’s proposal would go to housing: $7.4 million to acquire the shelter at 48th Avenue near Colorado Boulevard and $30 million on further shelter acquisition and construction. The city says this investment would lead to about 600 shelter beds, plus another 200-300 rooms “at locations around Denver” outside of the shelter setting.
Other large-ticket proposed items include:
- $30 million to renovate the 1909 Building at the National Western Center, a large and historic facility where officials now seek to create a “mission-driven public market” that showcases local goods and foods, with a mix of stalls, restaurants and shops.
- $30 million to renovate the 1,000-seat May Bonfils Stanton Theater in Loretto Heights, which Laura Perry in the Department of Finance told council members would lead to “an iconic site that will be reborn as a major activity center in a part of town that has lacked them”; among the changes would be a new 400-car parking lot.
- $14 million to update city facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- $13 million for reconstruction of Morrison Road.
- $13 million for pedestrian safety projects across Denver.
- $12 million for sidewalk construction in Districts 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10.
- $10 million for bike infrastructure.
- $13.8 million to build a library in Westwood.
- $12 million to build a library in Globeville.
- $7 million to renovate the Sloan’s Lake boathouse.
- $6 million to renovate the public pool at Curtis Park; the city said it will need to be closed in the next couple years if this funding isn’t approved.
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