Denver voters approved all but one of Mayor Michael Hancock’s bond measures Tuesday, voting down Measure 2E to fund the construction of the National Western Center Arena.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, 58.87% of voters voted against 2E, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office. The other bond measures — 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D — were all passed by voters with over 60% approval.
The five measures combined to form Hancock’s $450 million bond package to fund more than 80 infrastructure projects as part of the city’s COVID-19 recovery plan.
Measure 2E contained the two most expensive and controversial projects on the list: $160 million to construct the arena and $30 million to renovate the Historic 1909 Building for the National Western Center Campus.
“When you compare all the other bond measures, to me, it’s quite evident why it failed. It wasn’t based in the reality of the people that are suffering,” said Alfonso Espino, a spokesperson for the Globeville Elyria Swansea Coalition, which represents the neighborhoods where the arena would be located.
The funding for the arena has received substantial backlash since the bond package was first announced, with many saying the funds would be better spent elsewhere. If passed, the arena would have received over 35% of the bond package and cost more than the eight next most expensive projects combined.
“In a time when housing is scarce for the working class, at a time when health care is inaccessible and inequitable and expensive, at a time when we have one of the worst homeless crises in a century, the city chose to pursue the arena,” Espino said. "It was a slap in the face to the people who rejected it."
The other bond measures that passed will provide $104.04 million for city facility projects, $38.6 million for housing projects, $63.32 million for transportation projects and $54.07 million for Parks and Recreation projects.
Excluding the arena and Historic 1909 Building, the new most expensive projects on the bond list are:
- May Bonfils Stanton Theater at Loretto Heights renovation - $30 million
- Homeless shelter facility acquisition, conversion and/or construction - $30 million
- Park maintenance and facilities construction in Districts 1 and 11 - $15.8 million
- Americans with Disabilities Act improvements in city facilities - $14.23 million
- Westwood Branch Library construction - $13.88 million
- Morrison Road reconstruction - $13 million
- Citywide transportation safety and pedestrian improvements - $13 million
Espino said he hopes 2E’s failure will be a step toward the community reclaiming the public land being used to develop the National Western Center Campus. He said the community wants the land to be used for things it needs like housing, pharmacies and grocery stores.
However, Hancock said he intends to pursue alternative funding sources for the arena.
“While the voters didn’t approve the full package, the infrastructure investments that passed tonight will still propel our economic recovery forward and fuel it for the long term," Hancock said. "From improving mobility, resolving homelessness, and strengthening our cultural institutions, libraries and parks-and-rec facilities, these projects will help us build back better and create an economy that works for everyone.”
The National Western Center Arena would be a 10,000-seat, midsize venue for year-round events like concerts, sporting events and expos, in addition to the annual National Western Stock Show. The arena was first envisioned in the 2015 National Western Center Campus Master Plan.
To date, about $765 million has been spent on the National Western Center Campus from a combination of funding sources, city officials said.
The arena was originally meant to be funded by a tourism tax, which has taken a significant hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, the arena would cost $210 million to construct, with the remaining $50 million coming from other sources, city officials said.
During the City Council approval process, council members were split on the arena funding, opting to make the arena and Historic 1909 Building into their own ballot measure. Even then, the measure was only added to the ballot in a 9-4 vote.
“I’m proud of the work we did in Council to separate the arena bond into its own question,” Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said. “The city shouldn't be hiding pet projects in ill-conceived bond packages that don't have real citizen input. The residents of GES have been abused and lied to before, and we thank the city’s voters for standing with us.”
Despite push back, supporters of the arena argue it would be the largest economic stimulant in the bond package. The city estimates the construction would result in 3,000 jobs with an average salary of $30 per hour. That would total $194 million in worker wages by the time construction concluded.
In total, the city estimated the $450 million bond package would create 7,580 jobs and $1 billion in economic output.
The bond package is a general obligation bond, a type of municipal bond backed entirely by a city’s creditworthiness and paid back over decades using property taxes. The first debt issuance for the bond will be in spring 2022, city officials said.