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National Western Stock Show to make move east

By Larry Dreiling

The National Western Stock Show, born in a tent on the grounds of the Denver Union Stockyards along the South Platte River in 1906, plans to move to land that was once cow pasture and wheat fields in the eastern suburb of Aurora.

National Western officials, joined by representatives of Denver Mayor Bill Vidal's administration, appeared before a Denver City Council committee June 28 to announce plans to relocate the NWSS on a site near Tower Road and Pena Blvd.

The National Western would move to the area of Aurora known as High Point, a master-planned 1,800-acre mixed use development owned by LNR Property LLC., and close to the site of a proposed hotel and convention center to be built by Gaylord Entertainment Co.

With the move, the National Western would triple its land space to about 300 acres. The Gaylord property, meanwhile, would occupy about 85 acres, have 1,500 rooms and 400,000 square feet of total meeting and exhibit space.

By comparison, the current National Western Complex sits on about 100 acres, with 327,000 square feet of total exhibit space.

Gaylord and the National Western are to have an alliance to use the Gaylord's vast exhibit space as the replacement for its current Expo Hall.

"It's certainly going to be a big improvement over what we have here," said Paul Andrews, NWSS President and CEO.

Andrews said the new National Western shall tentatively include: a 10,000-seat multi-purpose arena that primarily will be used as the rodeo venue; a 3,500- to 5,000-seat arena primarily for equine events; a 300,000-square foot Livestock Hall, with three show rings, a massive livestock exhibit holding area and an auction facility; and "Yards" holding 200 24-by-32-foot day pens, 200 16-by-32-foot night pens, 4,000 tie-outs, wash racks and a Stockyards Arena for the fabled National Western Pen and Carload Shows.

The projects would be funded under a joint Denver and Aurora Regional Tourism Act grant. The RTA application requests state of Colorado consideration to provide $91.5 million in partial funding for the two new facilities. NWSS, through Denver and Aurora, is seeking $6.1 million in grant money, while Gaylord seeks the remainder.

For their part, Gaylord has announced their part of the project would cost about $800 million and will be funded by Gaylord, potential joint venture partners, the RTA grant, and $300 million in tax incentives that are being provided as a result of the agreement between the company and the City of Aurora.

The Aurora City Council has approved an agreement with Gaylord in which the city pledges to collect virtually all of the new taxes generated by the new hotel and will reinvest them into the project.

As things stand now, no agreements have been reached between the Cities of Denver and Aurora and NWSS, according to a National Western news release.

The plan to move the National Western to Aurora comes with controversy, as an original concept to keep the Stock Show grounds within the City and County of Denver had to be scrapped, NWSS officials told The Denver Post, because that site was too close to Denver International Airport and would require extensive and lengthy oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration. The nearby Aurora site would entail less federal intervention.

"About nine sites were reviewed in the Denver Metro area and specifically in Denver," said Paul Andrews, NWSS president and CEO, in an interview. "Over the last 10 years, each one of those sites dropped out of consideration for various reasons. Most recently, when we were looking at High Point land in Denver, it became apparent that due to the extensive process the FAA required, it would put this project out of reach.

"It required us to switch to the Aurora site, which was still adjoining the Gaylord property."

Andrews said the process would have added at least five additional years to completion of the project.

At that committee meeting, many Denver City Council members expressed outrage at the idea of moving the National Western out of Denver.

While some Denver officials issued their dismay at seeing the NWSS move east, Gaylord officials were ecstatic over the prospect of their company building a Colorado convention hotel.

Andrews, meanwhile, is upbeat about the prospects for a National Western being held in new digs as early as 2016. The new home, it's hoped, also will bring new revenue to the National Western Association, the non-profit charitable arm of the Stock Show.

"This will help us to increase the number of days we currently operate," Andrews said. "We currently have 80 percent of our income occur in two weeks every January. We should be able to do a lot of different events at all the venues throughout the year. There's no reason to have bull riders come in just in January."

That leads to a final new venue at the new National Western: A Western Heritage Center.

"This will be a tribute to the cowboy," Andrews said. "It will be open year round. You can buy a ticket and come through the exhibits. We think with Gaylord sitting next to us with their western-themed hotel that center will be a draw for people to come and experience the Old West and the New West.

The National Western Stock Show holds a 16-day run each January. Earlier this year, 644,818 people filed through the turnstiles.

"Our aim is to be the true western heritage center of the United States," Andrews said. "This new complex will bring us to that goal."

Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at ldreiling@aol.com.

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