In a 9-4 vote, Denver City Council sent $190 million worth of National Western Center bond items to the November ballot, despite vocal neighborhood opposition.
"We don’t feel like a real partner in this development; we don’t feel engaged in this development," Nola Miguel, director of the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea Coalition, said at an August 16 public hearing in advance of the August 23 vote.
With its approval, council moved the signature item in Mayor Michael Hancock's proposed $450 million infrastructure bond package — a new arena at the National Western Center — to the November ballot, along with four other separate ballot measures, for a total of eighty projects.
"The rationale for this bond package is to stimulate the economy, create jobs and careers, and support local businesses for years to come. That includes expanding opportunities and equity in the neighborhoods around the National Western Complex, which the mayor is committed to seeing happen," says Mike Strott, a spokesperson for Hancock.
But some councilmembers, as well as residents of the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, question whether spending $160 million on a new arena, as well as $30 million for the transformation of the historic 1909 arena, would actually help with economic stimulus.
"We are not currently facing a lack of arenas in Denver. We have tons of them," Alfonso Espino, a member of the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea Coalition, said during the August 16 public hearing. One of those is the Denver Coliseum, on the edge of the National Western Complex.
"We've been continuously ignored as a community," Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, a Swansea resident who represents the area, said at a press conference prior to the August 23 council meeting.
In July, when Hancock's administration first presented the bond proposal, it included four categories — facilities, housing and sheltering, transportation, and parks and recreation — with each getting its own question on the November ballot. Earlier this month, council asked the administration to pull the two National Western items from the facilities category and create a separate category for them.
"We split the questions apart specifically to make sure that this question could stand alone, so that voters could vote on it on its own merits," CdeBaca explained at the press conference. She later voted no on moving the National Western Complex question to the ballot, as did Paul Kashmann, Robin Kniech and Amanda Sandoval. For his part, Kashmann questioned why the administration left a needed $19 million for the Central Library's current renovations out of the bond package but felt that it could ask voters for arena money.
The Hancock administration plans to push hard in the coming months to convince voters to approve the National Western Center bond items, as well as the four other parts of the bond package.
"Nearly 3,400 of the projected 7,500 jobs that will be created through this bond package will be created through the proposed arena and 1909 Building projects," says Strott. "The events and businesses after construction is complete will support additional jobs there and in the neighborhoods on top of that. Any significant amount of funds and resources for meaningful local community investment will need a sustainable revenue source, and the arena and 1909 Building package provides just that."