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Planned $824-Million Gaylord Hotel Project and Denver Stock Show Move Create Friction in Denver

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Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment Co.’s plan to build an $824-million hotel and conference center northeast of Denver in neighboring Aurora County, targeted for a late-2015 opening, has spawned friction between the two cities.

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The complex would be located on 85 acres in an area known as High Point, just south of Denver International Airport. Gaylord is buying the land from LNR Property LLC, Miami Beach, Fla., for an undisclosed amount, with the sale expected to close this year. Greeley, Colo.-based Hensel Phelps Construction Co. will serve as the general contractor.

The 1,500-room resort, which would become the largest hotel in the Denver area, will have a western theme and could create 2,500 direct and indirect jobs, including up to 1,900 construction jobs over three years, and generate more than $5 million a year in state sales taxes, according to Aurora city officials. Because of the Aurora location, Gaylord has agreed not use the word “Denver” in the resort’s name. An early feasibility study refers to it as the “Gaylord Western.”

Funding for the project got a big boost when the Aurora City Council voted June 20 to approve a $300-million incentive and rebate package that includes tax increment financing, a cap on property taxes for the resort and a request for $5.6 million a year from the state’s Regional Tourism Act. Gaylord would also receive rebates of city room, property and sales taxes for the next 25 years.

If Aurora’s RTA request is approved by the state, it would be one of the largest public subsidies for a private project in Colorado history, and the $300-million total is by far the largest public-incentive package offered to Gaylord for any of its hotel projects.

“Obviously, this is a huge plus for our whole community,” says Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer. “It makes Aurora a national destination and will serve as a great catalyst for more development in the area around DIA.”

Despite the resort’s potential economic impact on the region, some Denver city and tourism officials are concerned that the Gaylord complex, which includes 400,000 sq ft of meeting space, will draw convention business away from the city’s core. Denver spent nearly $300 million to double the size of the 2.2-million-sq-ft downtown Colorado Convention Center in 2004.

But Tauer doesn’t see the Gaylord venue detracting from Denver’s core convention business. “Gaylord’s model is to primarily attract a different kind of conference customer, not the big car and boat shows,” he says. “A big part of Gaylord’s business will be additive, attracting new business here.”

Fueling the controversy is that one of Denver’s largest visitor venues, the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, wants to leave its cramped facilities along Interstate 70 in north Denver and build a new complex on 300 acres just east of the Gaylord project. Gaylord and the National Western do not have an agreement with each other but both would benefit from the move.

A new National Western site was initially proposed north of the Gaylord resort on DIA land. However, Denver officials recently became concerned that the DIA site would not work because potential scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration could create long construction delays.

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