Denver council approves first board for National Western Center

There was some debate on council as members called for more community representation on the group, but the nominees were approved by a firm majority.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
Doug Jones peers into the new model unveiled for the National Western Center, Dec. 12, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; national western center; national western stock show; development;

Doug Jones peers into the new model unveiled for the National Western Center, Dec. 12, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver City Council on Monday night approved the first members of the new board that will oversee operations at the soon-to-be redeveloped National Western area.

There was some debate on council as members called for more community representation on the group, but the nominees were approved by a firm majority.

The debate:

The board will play an influential role in the operations of the National Western Center, which is being built on the National Western Stock Show site at a cost of more than $750 million.

The big question last year was about how many seats should be set aside for “community members.” Some advocates and council members wanted two guaranteed community voters on the board.

Mayor Michael Hancock’s office preferred to have only one guaranteed community board member, but agreed to add a non-voting community member, too. That concept was approved by the council back in September.

On Monday, the council considered who those board members should be, and ultimately approved the mayor’s choices.

Here’s who the new board members are.

The board has 11 voting members. The city gets to designate seven of those people; the mayor nominates those folks and the council approves them.

They will have the authority to:

  • Choose the NWC’s president and CEO
  • Approve contracts
  • Create a community investment fund to benefit Elyria, Swansea and Globeville
  • Create a foundation to support the campus and community

The voting members nominated by the mayor were:

  • Joe Garcia, board chair – president, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, former lieutenant governor
  • Jacque Hinman – former president and CEO, CH2M, the construction engineering firm
  • Robb Brown – principal, the Denver Retail Group, a retail advisory firm
  • Kelly Leid – executive VP, Oakwood Homes, one of the biggest builders in the region and former head of the National Western project
  • Monique Lovato – CEO and executive director, Mi Casa Resource Center
  • Steve McCarthy – chairman and CEO, Além International Management, an events company
  • John Zapien – Globeville resident, designated community member

The non-voting members nominated by the mayor were:

  • Lilliana Flores Amaro – resident of Elyria-Swansea, designated non-voting community member who can take the place of Zapien if he is absent
  • Brendan Hanlon – chief financial officer, City and County of Denver

The board also includes two representatives of Colorado State University and two from the Western Stock Show Association.

Council reactions:

Hancock arguably included more community voices than he was required to, if you count nonprofit director Monique Lovato. Still, some council members were disappointed by a perceived lack of community representation.

“I’m excited about what (the project) brings to the table, but I’m nowhere near as excited about the makeup of this board,” said Councilman Paul Kashmann. “I just think we’re giving short shrift to the voice … of the neighborhoods.”

Councilwoman At-large Debbie Ortega said she would support the nominations, but hoped to return to the question of community representation and community benefits. Councilman Kevin Flynn was “sympathetic to that cause,” but also wanted to approve the nominees. Council members Paul López and Rafael Espinoza also expressed concerns.

Council President Albus Brooks said that there was “real concern” from the community about the board’s makeup.

“I feel like it was a real opportunity to sit before the mayor and get those two votes, and we were not able to do that,” Brooks said, while acknowledging that the mayor had still included multiple community members in the nominations.

Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech abstained from the vote, saying she had unresolved concerns. “I think there are just some other questions about the potential appearance of conflict based on former employment,” she said, declining to single out any board members.

The council pressed an administration representative about how Hancock decided on the number of community seats for the board.

“There was a lot of priority about having a small and nimble board that can make actions … You really want an odd number of voting seats,” said Crystal Torres-DeHerrera, deputy city attorney.

She said that it “was the mayor’s decision and it was our decision as well.”  She added: “We want to make sure that whoever sits on this board understands the incredible, valuable role that the surrounding neighborhoods play … It’s about, ‘How do we share the opportunity with these surrounding communities and make sure that they benefit as well?'”

Council members Espinoza, Kashmann and López all voted not to approve the nominees. Kniech abstained. Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore was absent. The other eight members voted to approve the slate.