Sep 13, 2021 - Politics

Denver mayor's National Western arena plans incite pricey fight

A photo of Mayor Michael Hancock outside standing behind a podium and holding a microphone

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaking at an event last October. Photo: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

Mayor Michael Hancock’s plans to spend $190 million in bonds for a new arena and public market at the National Western Center have incited a pricey clash.

Driving the news: Denver residents will vote on Hancock’s proposal this November when it appears on the ballot as Referred Question 2E.

  • The ballot item will ask local voters to allow the city to borrow $160 million to build a "state of the art" arena and another $30 million to renovate the existing 1909 facility into a market and food hall.
  • The goal is to turn the National Western Center complex — a historic destination that’s home to the annual stock show and rodeo — into a year-round attraction while stimulating the economy and generating jobs.

Why it matters: Hancock has fewer than two years left in office, and his ability to garner enough political support to push his plan through not only determines the fate of his crown jewel in a $450 million infrastructure bond package but also the tangible mark he leaves on the city.

What they’re saying: "I think this is his last big hoorah on giving the voters an opportunity to vote on continuing to build for the future," former Mayor Wellington Webb, who supports the bond package, tells Alayna.

What to watch: Political action committees on both sides of the issue are quickly springing up and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to win over voters.

  • A PAC called Friends of the National Western Stock Show has already raised $290,000 pushing for the passage of 2E.
    • Ronald Williams, the former board director of the Stock Show, donated $100,000 to back the effort, BusinessDen reports.
    • Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 500 company in Centennial, also contributed $35,000.
  • Another PAC, RISE Denver, formed just to support the measure.
  • No On the Arena Bond — a PAC supported by residents in the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods — formed where the arena would be constructed. The committee, which has raised a few thousand dollars, argues funds should go toward affordable housing and combating climate change, committee chair Sarah Lake told BusinessDen.

Context: Since Hancock announced his plan to build a new arena in his annual State of the City address, his vision has faced resistance, including from council members.

  • The mayor’s administration initially proposed dividing the $450 million bond package into four questions on the ballot, with the two Western Center projects lumped together. But the Denver City Council voted to make the project its own fifth question to ensure nothing slipped past voters.

In addition to the National Western Center measure, the mayor will ask Denver voters to approve four other bond items:

  • Referred Question 2A (Facilities Systems Bonds): $104 million to build two new libraries, upgrade existing ones, improve accessibility for people with disabilities and provide repairs at city facilities, including the Denver Zoo and Botanic Gardens.
  • Referred Question 2B (Housing and Sheltering System Bonds): $38.6 million for establishing new shelters and improving existing facilities for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Referred Question 2C (Transportation and Mobility System Bonds): $63.3 million to improve Denver’s sidewalks, expand bike lanes, improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, and create new walking corridors.
  • Referred Question 2D (Parks and Recreation System Bonds): $54 million to create two new parks, respectively, in northeast and south Denver, improve park recreation equipment, fields, courts, pools and restrooms.

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