DALLAS – Denver voters will decide this week if they will extend taxes to help fund $700 million to expand the downtown convention center and upgrade the National Western Stock Show complex to the north.
Question 2C on Tuesday's ballot asks voters to extend the current 1.75% visitors tax on hotel rooms and car rentals to serve as a revenue stream for the expansion projects. The tax was approved in 1999 and is set to expire in 2023. The measure would not increase the tax, but extend it indefinitely, directing $476 million to help fund the projects. Proponents of the measure have emphasized the need for no tax increase under the theme of "A Smart Deal for Denver."
"In 2014, the Colorado Convention Center lost 236 major events because we did not have adequate or available space," said Cindy Parsons, chairwoman of the city's convention and tourism bureau. "Without raising taxes, this ballot measure will allow us to say yes to more convention organizers and meeting planners who want to host events in Denver. And by capturing greater market share we'll generate more tourism revenue to support local businesses and invest in our city."
While the extension of the visitor tax is not technically a tax increase, two other measures on the ballot are.
Proposition 2A, a Denver initiative, would increase the sales tax by less than 1 cent per dollar to provide a fund for college tuition for low-income students with acceptable grade-point averages.
Colorado's only statewide ballot initiative, Proposition BB, would allow the state to retain increased revenue from the Colorado's marijuana tax without requiring a referendum.
A yes vote would allow the state to circumvent the constitutional Taxpayer Bill of Rights, commonly known as TABOR.
Financing of the two Denver projects – currently valued at $856 million -- would require the city to raise $150 million to $200 million through land and asset sales, along with other measures.
The proposal would have the city apply for $117 million under the state's Regional Tourism Act and create financial partnerships with Colorado State University and the National Western Stock Show.
The plan to create a year-round National Western Center on the 270-acre stock show grounds comes after years of battling with the suburb of Aurora to keep the stock show complex and as part of a long-range plan to rehabilitate the decaying industrial section of north Denver that has served as home to stock show for 109 years.
The National Western Stock Show and its rodeo run for 16 days every January. The 2015 show drew more than 680,000 visitors.
"The National Western Center plan is our opportunity to keep the stock show in Denver and make it thrive for another century," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in an August statement. "With the voters' support, we'll reinvent the National Western as a year-round destination for entertainment and tourism. We'll partner with Colorado State University to establish Denver as a global center for agricultural research and agribusiness development and we'll restore the historic neighborhoods that built the city we are all proud to call home."
The plan calls for cleaning up a mile of the South Platte River, restoring access to the riverfront and opening up 80 acres of parkland and open space. Designers plan to build bridges and roads to connect the Globeville, Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods to the National Western Center and to new transit stations.
Reconstruction of the National Western complex coincides with the Colorado Department of Transportation's $1.8 billion plan to redevelop 12 miles of the elevated Interstate 70 that bisects Denver and its oldest suburbs.
Considered the largest public-private project in CDOT's history, the I-70 plan would ideally lower the freeway below grade, allowing for construction of a platform overhead that could serve as a park and bridge between two sections of the National Western complex. CDOT expects to award the project next fall, with commercial close by the end of 2016.
To keep the National Western in the Mile High City, Denver had to fend off attempts by Aurora to build it a new complex near Denver International Airport.
Denver officials were shocked in 2011 when the board of the National Western selected a site in Aurora for the new development with promises of tax subsidies from the suburb on Denver's east side.
Adding insult to injury, the plan also called for Denver to issue general obligation bonds to finance the National Western's relocation to Aurora. That set off feverish negotiations that convinced the National Western to keep its current site, which was under lease through 2040.
The airport's environs would be impacted by another measure on the Nov. 3 ballot that would end restrictions on developing land around DIA. If approved, the measure would open up 1,500 acres of land around the airport for development. One-half of the tax revenue generated by the development would be shared with neighboring Adams County.
Denver's deputy mayor, Cary Kennedy, estimated those tax revenues would total between $160 million and $270 million over 30 years.
The measure seeks to amend the 1988 agreement between Denver and Adams County, when Denver originally annexed land for the airport. At the time, Adams County did not want to give up the land to see it filled with businesses whose profits would benefit only Denver. Therefore, an agreement was made that Denver would not allow businesses unrelated to airport operations on the land.
With the growth of DIA, however, advocates believe the agreement should be amended to allow the development of new businesses and revenue sharing with Adams County.
With about $1.3 billion of debt outstanding, the city and county of Denver enjoys triple-A ratings on its general obligation bonds.
Despite a slump in oil prices that affects the Denver-Julesburg Basin of northeastern Colorado, the state's economy has continued to show surprising strength, experts say.
In Standard & Poor's monthly Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 cities across the U.S., Denver matched San Francisco with the largest increase of 9.4%, according to S&P.