Although Denver voters rejected a $190 million bond measure to help pay for a 10,000-seat area and community market at the National Western Center, city officials say they are still committed to both projects, as envisioned in the 2015 master plan for redeveloping the campus. “We’re in the process of evaluating what our options are,” said Tykus Holloway, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center. “We’ll continue to seek funding to bring that to fruition.”
The massive Western Center redevelopment plan calls for new facilities to bolster tourism, foster agriculture education and research, and create new amenities for the surrounding neighborhoods, which have historically been underserved. It expands the stock show campus from 90 to 250 acres.
In 2015 voters approved a measure to raise nearly $800 million for the project by extending an existing 1.75% tax on car rentals and hotel rooms. That funding, however, was just for the first two phases of construction, which has been underway for the past three years.
Infrastructure—including a heating system from sewer pipes and work on a riverfront park
Holloway says that although “tremendous progress” has been made in the first two phases, much of it wasn’t visible until about six months ago. The majority of the construction involved horizontal infrastructure: new water lines and wastewater pipes, electrical and fiberoptic wiring, new roads, re-located rail lines, a new light rail stop, and the foundation for a new bridge across the South Platte River. Crews have also begun to build an innovative heating system that will provide buildings with heat from underground sewer pipes, and they have started preliminary work on what will become a 6-acre riverfront park with walkways and public art. Previously, there was no riverfront access from the Western Center campus.
Four New Buildings in 2022
A new Stockyard Events Center with an open-air plaza and 20 acres of stockyards is getting the final finishing touches while three other buildings, managed by Colorado State University, are also nearing completion. They are part of the CSU Spur project that is designed to educate and connect people to issues surrounding health, food, and water. “The buildings will all be open to the public and will offer opportunities to learners of all ages to connect with professionals in the field,” says Jocelyn Hittle, CSU vice-chancellor in charge of the Spur project. Each building will be devoted to one of those three issues. “The goal for all three facilities is to provide opportunities to connect visitors directly with professionals in the field,” says Hittle. “We want young people to see themselves in careers that maybe they’ve never considered.”
Animal health and its connection to human health—The Vida (or “life”) building is expected to be completed in time for the stock show and will showcase animal health and its connection to human health. The Denver Dumb Friends League will operate a veterinary clinic in the building that will offer free or low-cost vet services to any income-qualified family in the area. “One of the special things about the clinic is that there will be an area where visitors can watch the veterinarians working in the space and ask questions to learn more about promoting good animal health,” says Hittle. The Vida building will house the Temple Grandin Equine Center for therapeutic riding and a state-of-the-art equine sports medicine center where horses can receive acupuncture and use underwater treadmills to recover from injuries.
Urban agriculture—growing food in a small space—The Terra (or “earth”) building is expected to open in the spring of 2022. It will focus on urban agriculture and will feature a rooftop greenhouse and garden. “We want to show people that even if they don’t have a big yard, they can still grow food,” says Hittle. Visitors will also be able to bring in soil or water samples for testing, take classes in gardening or composting, or visit the food innovation lab.
Water quality—The Hydro building will open next November and will focus on water research, innovation and policy. In collaboration with Denver Water, more than 200,000 water quality tests will be conducted at the site and young visitors will have the chance to meet with scientists and learn how to take water samples out of the South Platte River.
Completion of the National Western Plans
The midsized arena and the community market, which failed to attract voter funding this year, are part of phases 3-8 of the redevelopment. City officials are hopeful that funding can be secured once the public sees how the National Western Center is being completely transformed.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch