Update: The Denver City Council approved this legal settlement on Sep. 30.
The city has a deal to ensure railroad tracks don’t stand in the way of development of the National Western Center.
“This is for me a really big step,” City Council President Jolon Clark said.
Clark was speaking during a recent Finance and Governance Committee meeting at which he and other Denver City Council members heard details of the $16.8 million agreement the city attorney negotiated to buy land along the South Platte River on which three miles of Denver Rock Island Railroad lines run.
The lines the railroad now owns will be torn up and rail traffic consolidated elsewhere on the grounds of the annual National Western complex. The National Western Center under development will turn the stock show complex into a 250-acre, year-round culture, recreation, agriculture and environmental science center.
Brad Dodson, who is deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center, said both a previous project to bury sewage infrastructure in the area and the rail line clearance were crucial to keeping the huge project on schedule and on budget. Dodson called reaching agreement on the rail line a “monumental moment.”
Removing the lines improves public access to the river and safety, Dodson said during the committee meeting. He said the area now has 14 unprotected, at-grade Rock Island crossings, most of which will disappear when the lines are moved.
Before his election to City Council, Clark’s work with the nonprofit Greenway Foundation had focused on connecting young Denverites with the South Platte. Clark said voters wanted to reclaim the river when they approved a spending plan for the National Western Center.
In 2015 Denver voters approved borrowing up to $476 million to be repaid with taxes on car rentals and lodging for the National Western Center.
Clark and six other committee members were unanimous in giving the railway deal initial approval on Aug. 27.