National Western Complex, Convention Center: Changes likely under new study

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Three years ago next month, Denver suddenly woke up to the realization that it could lose the National Western Stock Show -- maybe to another city, maybe to that upstart Aurora and its proposed Gaylord Entertainment hotel -- an $800 million, Western-themed hotel and entertainment complex by Denver International Airport with more than 400,000 feet of conference space -- about a third the amount at the current downtown Colorado Convention Center.

Despite an ownership change and a couple of pesky legal actions, Aurora's Gaylord complex is still on track -- but it won't be rustling the Stock Show. In November 2012, Mayor Michael Hancock announced that the National Western would be staying in Denver ,where it happens to have a long-term lease. And today, Denver unveiled the results of a $272,000 feasibility study looking not just at the future of the National Western Stock Show Complex, but also the Colorado Convention Center.

"This is a milestone in the journey to create a world-class Western center," Mayor Michael Hancock said, standing in the circa 1909 Stadium Arena that would be "repurposed" under that study. The current complex is right at the heart of the Corridor of Opportunity that leads from DIA downtown; the city has six major projects in the neighborhood, including the RTD light-rail stop at 49th and Broadway slated for completion in 2018.

"Denver needs to think holistically about its current facilities to continue growing our convention and tourism business," Hancock added. "The recommendations made by the study could help strengthen Denver's position as a global city as well as a desired convention destination that would generate local and regional job growth for years to come."

Under the study, commissioned by Visit Denver, Denver Arts & Venues and the Western Stock Show Association and prepared by Atlanta-based Strategic Advisory Group, Langer Equestrian Group and Fentress Architects (which designed the original Colorado Convention Center), the circa 1952 Coliseum just south of I-70 would be repurposed, too, and a new, larger arena built on the north side of I-70. "We didn't hear anybody say they wanted to get rid of the Stock Show," says Strategic Advisory's Jerry McClendon. But they definitely wanted to get rid of some of the "obsolete" facilities.

The current Hall of Education would go, replaced by an expo hall with 320,000 square feet of exhibition space -- and enough room for an Olympic ice rink. Even the newest facility in the complex, the Events Center that is home to many of the equestrian events, would be replaced with a multi-purpose building, as well as a new equestrian arena.

In keeping with the goal of making this a year-round complex, the area would be relabeled the National Western Center.

Compared to the bad rap for the National Western's infrastructure, the Colorado Convention Center came across much better in a second portion of the study.

Continue for more about the National Western Complex and Colorado Convention Center study. In fact, Fentress's original designs for the Colorado Convention Center even include a pie-in-the-sky concept that would add a ballroom and more exhibit space on top of the roof of the current building, accommodating one of the study's recommendations on how to keep competitive for big conventions.

The next phase of the plan, set for completion by the end of the year, calls for an evaluation of all the recommendations. That phase of the master plan is being led by Parsons Brinckerhoff and will include key partners Colorado State University, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and History Colorado, as well as Visit Denver, Theaters & Arenas, the National Western Stock Show and a 27-member Citizens Advisory Council.

That's the group that can grapple with some of the trickier questions, such as:

• How much would all this cost, and how is it going to be paid for?

• Does the current call for reconfiguring I-70 in north Denver -- if not moving it out altogether -- have any impact on the plans?

• The arena is not the only historic structure in the National Western Complex. An even older area -- the livestock pens -- have been identified by historians as an important site to preserve, and Historic Denver has already looked at other potentially historic structuresin the area.

• When the study considered how vulnerable Denver's convention market was to competition from large convention center hotels, did it include the Gaylord complex in Aurora?

Read the executive summary of the report here.

Read the portion of the study concerning the Colorado Convention Center here.

Read the portion of the study on the National Western Complex here.

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