Community members react to National Western proposal that would create new arena, replace older one

North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative
Posted at 5:21 PM, Aug 23, 2021

DENVER — The $190-million bond proposal for the National Western Center could take another step forward Monday night, as city council will make a final decision on the proposal and will decide whether to send these measures to the ballot.

But not everyone who lives in the Globeville/Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods is excited about the change.

For his whole life, Alfonso Espino and his family have called the Globeville/Elyria-Swansea neighborhood home. He says the almost $200-million proposal for the National Western Center isn’t what his community needs.

"That is money that should be going into permanent housing, permanent public housing solutions, social program investment," said Espino.

The plan would build a new arena at the National Western Center, preserve and renovate an older one as well as bring in more jobs and money. For Espino, who lives less than half a mile from the National Western complex, this proposal is out of touch with their reality.

"This campus that seeks to be an innovator in food, when I live in a food desert. It seeks to be championing environmental issues, when I live in one of the most polluted ZIP codes in the country. How can it address the problems when it is avoiding them completely?" said Espino.

For that reason, community members and city council members gathered outside the steps of the city an county building to voice their concerns.

They’d like the last remaining piece of public land at the National Western Center to be used to develop a community vision as an act of reparations because they say the National Western dispossessed many of their land.

"It is important for the people who have been harmed to be the ones addressing those harms and offering solutions," said Espino.

On Monday, Brad Buchanan, CEO of the National Western Center, released the following statement:

The National Western Center Authority and the City and County of Denver share the GES Coalition’s commitment to codifying robust community benefits as part of this redevelopment project. Together with community groups and representatives — including among others the GES Coalition — we are looking at a variety of ways to identify and implement community benefits above and beyond a required Community Investment Fund whose proceeds will go to the neighborhood. Residents of GES were at the table for the creation of the vision of the National Western Center, and continue to be at the table in a variety of ways. We are listening, and we are actively working together to find the best paths forward.

We agree that further coordination with the community is needed as land development plans become established. In 2021, due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, the Triangle P3 procurement was halted. The Triangle project included robust community outreach, a range of public and private investments with requirements for jobs, affordable housing, open space, mobility, financial investments in GES, and a community benefits agreement that would have been negotiated between the community and the developer. While 2020-2021 had been quiet due to the pandemic and the cancellation of the P3, meetings with and by the community about these topics have escalated recently.

First steps are already underway. A community-based committee is codifying community goals and priority areas, and will accept Community Investment Fund proceeds. Next steps will include a land development process for the Triangle that balances community goals and commitments with land use and economic development needs.

The rationale for this bond package is to stimulate the economy, create jobs and careers, and support local businesses for years to come, and the Arena and 1909 Stadium Building account for nearly half of that economic stimulus. They will bring immediate jobs and economic opportunities to GES and the broader Denver community. The Arena and 1909 Stadium Building are expected to create almost 3,500 jobs during their construction, generating more than $184 million in wages for workers and sustaining hundreds more jobs, from venue managers to maintenance personnel, once they are complete.

These projects will have a lasting economic impact on the entire city, region and state. The arena will support a wide variety of events, from live music to food festivals and the annual National Western Stock Show event. Additionally, the creation of these two buildings is expected to generate the greatest source of funding for the \Community Investment Fund.

The GES Coalition is one of many groups providing vital input on this process and we are committed to continuing engagement with them as well as many other groups and individuals moving forward.

The National Western Center proposal is the largest portion of a $450-million measure proposed by Mayor Hancock to help Denver’s economy rebound from the pandemic.