Construction Watch

Council Committee Corrals National Western Center Bond Projects

Hold your horses, Mayor Hancock!
Hold your horses, Mayor Hancock! Brandon Marshall
When Mayor Michael Hancock's administration presented a proposed $450 million bond package last month, it included four categories: facilities, housing and sheltering, transportation, and parks and recreation. Each category was to be its own question on the November ballot.

The big-ticket item in the package: $160 million for a new arena at the National Western Center.

"Building a new state-of-the-art arena and the new events it will attract will create year-round jobs and provide funding for community programs and projects important for the well-being of surrounding communities," Hancock said during his July 26 State of the City speech.

But while the Hancock plan included that new arena — as well as the transformation of the historic, circa 1909 arena at the complex — into the facilities category, along with new two new libraries and other resident-friendly projects, Denver City Council members didn't buy it.

"It lumps things that I think create a really challenging thing for voters," Councilwoman Jamie Torres said during an August 3 council committee meeting.

The committee voted 4-3 to put the two National Western Center items, which total $190 million, into a fifth bond category that voters will consider separately.

Throughout the meeting, councilmembers poked holes in the Hancock-supported notion that the projects associated with the National Western Center would be especially beneficial for the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. They also complained about the timing of collecting community input.

At-large member Robin Kniech pointed out that other cities that have invested in these types of arena projects have established community benefits agreements before the funding was in place, not after.

But at-large member Debbie Ortega didn't support the idea of putting the National Western projects into their own category. "I’m a little concerned that by splitting it up, I think that dilutes some of the resources that some of the agencies might be able to pool to communicate with voters about the full package they’re being asked to vote on," she said.

Kniech, Jolon Clark, Chris Hinds and Candi CdeBaca ultimately approved splitting the facilities category, while Ortega, Kendra Black and Stacie Gilmore voted against it.

Whether in four categories or five, the Hancock administration is selling the entire bond package as a worthy cause.

"The rationale for this bond package is to make an economically stimulative investment that supports Denver’s recovery now and helps to sustain it for years ahead. The proposed arena and 1909 building are the largest economically stimulative projects in this proposal, accounting for nearly half of the economic impact of this package, and we intend to see the whole package referred to voters this November," says Mike Strott, a spokesperson for the mayor.

Denver City Council will need to approve the proposal before the end of August in order for it to make the November ballot. Denver voters last approved a similar type of bond package, which included projects in multiple categories, in 2017; the total tab for Elevate Denver was $937 million.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.