While the horses are dancing at the Stock Show, another kind of dance is happening backstage for National Western. After the failure of the 2E bond, leaders of the various National Western organizations are facing increasing questions about how they plan to fund projects they insist are going forward and whether they have community support. At the same time, some community leaders and organizations are pushing the city and the National Western leadership to change direction.
If the terminology around National Western is confusing, you’re not alone–with almost everything having “National Western” in their names, it’s easy to mix things up–so here’s your primer on the groups involved. When we refer simply to “National Western,” we are referring to the entire location, organizations involved, etc.
National Western Center Authority (NWCA): The National Western Authority is the nonprofit organization that oversees the operations and maintenance of the entire campus.
National Western Stock Show (NWSS): Also a nonprofit organization, National Western Stock Show runs the annual stock show in January and some other programming.
National Western Complex: The National Western Complex is mostly facilities that have been on site for many years. Anyone who has been to the stock show or other events over the years are probably familiar with these buildings.
National Western Center: The National Western Center is the campus that is currently under construction. New elements for the 2022 Stock Show include the Stockyards Event Center, the new stockyards, CSU Spur buildings, and others.
Mayor’s Office of The National Western Center: This is the Denver municipal office, underneath the mayor, that oversees strategic planning and construction for the 250-acre campus.
Brad Buchanan was the planning director for the city from 2013-2018, including when the last bond to support National Western passed in 2015 and the Authority was set up in 2017. Today, as CEO of the Authority, he’s involved with nearly every aspect of National Western from the public facing programs to infrastructure for the campus. “We program, operate, and maintain the National Western campus as those assets are completed by the city and handed over to the authority,” he explained in an interview with The G.E.S. Gazette.
Tykus Holloway, executive director for the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center, echoed Buchanan’s assessment. “It changes the timing, but not the commitment.”
Neither see the voter’s rejection of 2E as a rejection of a new arena, but only the funding mechanism. Both also said how the arena is the financial engine of much of the campus: ticket, food and beverage, and other sales are intended to provide money for a community investment fund and generate revenue for the campus. Both also cited the passage of ballot measure 2C in 2015, which funded early stages of development at National Western, as proof of community support. 2C passed over 65%, with some of the strongest support coming from precincts in the G.E.S. community.
Paul Andrews, President and CEO of the National Western Stock Show, also sees projects pivoting, but not stopping. “That model [of funding] didn’t work. Now we’re talking with the city about other options. That new arena is a need, not a want.”
Not everyone agrees with that assessment of 2E’s failure or the changes that have taken place in the past six years, though. Members of the G.E.S. Coalition, which opposed 2E, said they don’t see genuine engagement from the city or National Western partners. The coalition has been advocating for reparations for the G.E.S. community. A portion of the National Western campus was previously privately owned and acquired by the city. After a public-private partnership at National Western failed and voters rejected 2E, they think the time is right for a broader conversation than they say the city wants to have, including potentially changing the overall master plan for National Western.
“They don’t want to entertain another plan,” said Robin Reichhardt, communications manager for the coalition. Reichhardt and Alfonso Espino, an organizer for the coalition, said they see 2E’s failure as more than a rejection of the funding source for the arena, but as a referendum on the city’s plans overall. Although they opposed an arena, which they say sits empty too much of the time and doesn’t benefit the immediate community, they said they are more focused on how unused land on the National Western campus could be used for community benefit.
One of those ideas is a food market, which has come up frequently. A “year-round fresh food market” was first introduced in the 2015 bond but has not emerged with other projects. Asked about a market, Tykus Holloway said “Ballot languages are always tough…from what I understand, it wasn’t intended to be an inclusive list.” To Reichhardt and Espino, though, the market not being built and being included again in the 2021 bond as a selling point was another broken promise. “The whole proposal was tone deaf,” said Reichhardt.
Buchanan, asked whether he thought a food market was still realistic without 2E funds, responded “Absolutely – 100 percent.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Hancock also said a market and other improvements will go forward without the bond money. “The arena and public market are also key to our commitment to the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods that this campus redevelopment support community benefits and a Community Investment Fund, as they’ll be a major funding source for those commitments. An alternative funding mechanism is being determined, and we want to make sure any path forward reflects the needs of the community and includes City Council.”
The G.E.S. Coalition is known as a frequent voice of antagonism for the current administration, but in this case was not alone in their opposition and criticism. LJ Suzuki, head of the Globeville First registered neighborhood organization, also opposed the bond. He explained that after some early conversations about ideas like revenue sharing didn’t come to fruition, he and other community members didn’t see enough benefits to their community.
“I voted no to 2E because NWCA offered no commitments to our neighborhood. There was no upside for Globeville out of 2E – just higher taxes, more construction dust, and increased traffic during events,” Suzuki told The G.E.S. Gazette.
Meanwhile, Reichhardt, Espino, and like-minded residents are organizing themselves to try to present a unified community voice. They said they’ve brought up collective governance and ownership before but were dismissed by the city because they didn’t have a land trust. A few years ago, with some financial support from the city and CDOT, they started one but say the city moves the goal posts every time the community comes up with new options. They are hoping for some land to be put into a public interest land trust to benefit the immediate community, though not necessarily the trust tied to their organization. “We don’t want to be running everything–not at all,”
While all the parties don’t agree on what meaningful community engagement might look like, everyone acknowledges that the November election changed how the National Western partners and the community
“While we’re disappointed in the loss, there’s opportunity there as well to look at new options–to build community consensus. The first Tuesday in November we didn’t have that. We stand more ready and aware of the importance of this project than ever,” said Buchanan.