The Gaylord Rockies in Aurora isn’t opening until the end of next year, but the resort and convention center already has more than 600,000 room nights booked between February 2019 and 2028.
Although the 1,501-room hotel is 70 percent complete, Gaylord won’t start releasing more rooms until it’s certain that it will be able to deliver the project on time, says David Bray, vice president of architecture and construction for RIDA Development Corporation, developer of the project.
“The last thing you want to do is book something and then have something happen where they can’t come into the hotel,” Bray says.
The $800 million Gaylord Rockies, 22 miles from downtown Denver, is the largest hotel under construction in the United States. About 1,300 workers show up every day to work on the project. General contractor Mortenson has 79 subcontractors working on the project, including five companies doing framing and drywall and two electrical contractors. RIDA’s average payout to its subcontractors is $20 million a month.
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Like Gaylord’s other four hotels, its Rockies iteration will highlight characteristics that define the region where it’s located. But unlike some of its other properties, the Gaylord Rockies will be a bit more generic. The Gaylord Texan, for example, gives guests a “tour” of state landmarks within the comfort of a climate-controlled atrium, including the Alamo, the San Antonio River Walk and Palo Duro Canyon. The Gaylord Rockies will deliver the flavor of Colorado without offering replicas of landmarks like Red Rocks or Maroon Bells.
The Grand Lodge will be front and center upon entering the hotel. It will have the feel of a ski village, with rock work, waterways and landscaping that is found throughout the state. There may be a fake elk hiding in a corner, and a Santa Fe railroad caboose that was a workhorse in the Rockies in its past life is being restored. The fireplace will have a sixteen-foot-long faux-wood beam that’s about four feet in diameter for the mantelpiece. A rock grotto that holds about fifty people also will be available for events.
“The subcontractor that did the [theme] did a weeklong tour of the state,” Bray says, noting that the hotel and conference center took about a year and a half to design.
The conference center will have 485,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including a 50,000-square-foot column-free ballroom that can hold as many as 4,000 people.
The property will have eight restaurants and bars with a total of 1,344 seats and a 60,000-square-foot kitchen to service them.
The 24,000-square-foot Mountain Pass sports bar will seat 460 people and will have about 25 TVs, including a 75-foot-long, fourteen-foot-high LED screen — the largest indoor LED screen in the state. The men’s room will have urinals made from beer kegs.
Gaylord is working with Dry Dock Brewing Company, located nearby, and Odell Brewing Company to create a signature beer for the bar, says Michael Kofsky, director of sales and marketing for Gaylord Rockies. The bar will have at least 25 beers on tap.
The Gaylord Rockies will have seven pools and water features, including an indoor pool, an outdoor pool and a lazy river that’s open year-round. The hotel, on 85 acres just minutes from Denver International Airport, will also have tennis courts and a basketball court, as well as a spa that has an “experience shower” with a crushed-ice machine so guests can rub ice over their bodies.
Over the past twenty months, the Gaylord has poured 74,000 cubic yards of concrete — enough to place a four-inch slab over 125 football fields — but only 47 percent of it is visible, because it’s mostly below grade.
The resort is projected to draw more than 450,000 new visitors a year and will create 1,550 permanent jobs. At two million square feet, it’s Gaylord’s second-largest hotel, behind Gaylord Opryland in Nashville. For the moment, it ranks third in number of rooms, but the Gaylord Texan, which currently has 1,500 rooms, is adding another 300.
The massive project is driving other development in the area near DIA. There’s a new Starbucks, and developer RIDA has acquired 130 acres of land around the resort that’s planned as a mixed-use development. Bray says construction on that property is expected to start by mid-2019.
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Gaylord, which is receiving $84.1 million in state Regional Tourism Act funds and about $300 million from the City of Aurora, faced intense opposition when it announced the project in 2011. Initial plans called for relocating the National Western Stock Show from its aging facility at Interstate 70 and Brighton Boulevard, a move that created an uproar in the downtown business community.
The sheer size of the project also stirred emotions. Downtown business leaders were concerned that it would draw business away from downtown, a fear that hotels in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex also had when the company opened the Gaylord Texan in 2004. That fear was so intense that hoteliers start upgrading their properties, hoping to thwart Gaylord’s impact, and Dallas started construction on its own convention-center hotel after thirty years of talking about it. It also made $100 million in improvements to its one-million-square-foot convention center.
Now Denver is embarking on its own expansion of the Colorado Convention Center. Plans call for an 80,000-square-foot ballroom inside, and for a 50,000-square-foot outdoor terrace with mountain and downtown views to be built on the roof. There also will be technology upgrades throughout the center, and the three lobbies downstairs will be renovated.
And the aging National Western complex is being redeveloped to the tune of $1 billion. The city, Colorado State University and the Western Stock Show Association plan to expand the complex into a 250-acre year-round tourism, event, education and agricultural-innovation center.