Denver Referred Question 2E: The one on borrowing money to build a new arena at the National Western Center

5 min. read
A model unveiled showing new plans for the National Western Center, Dec. 12, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

?️ Denver Election Guide 2021: Links to info about ballot initiatives in Denver and Colorado, school board candidates and general voting questions are all right here.

Mayor Michael Hancock's administration wants voters to approve $450 million in bonds to pay for numerous projects throughout the city. That amount is spread out over five questions on your ballot.

This is the measure specifically asking you to approve borrowing $190 million to pay for building a new arena and making improvements to the 1909 Stadium Building. Both projects are connected to the National Western Center campus expansion in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood in northeast Denver.

Here's the language you'll see on the ballot:

Shall the City and County of Denver debt be increased $190,000,000, with a maximum repayment cost of $327,212,000, with no expected increase in the city's current rate of taxation for general obligation debt service based on the city's projected assessed value, the proceeds thereof to be used for repairs and improvements to the National Western Campus facilities system, which may include but are not limited to:

  • Construction of a multi-use arena for concerts, local and high school sporting events, rodeo, and other entertainment events at the national western campus; and
  • Renovation and preservation of an historic building at the national western campus to create a public market;

By the issuance and payment of general obligation bonds, notes, loan agreements or other multiple fiscal year financial obligations, which shall be issued or incurred in such manner and containing such terms not inconsistent herewith as the city may determine (the expenditure of the proceeds thereof to be publicly reported by the city on an annual basis); and shall city ad valorem property taxes be increased without limitation as to rate but by not more than a maximum amount of $35,155,000 annually in amounts sufficient to pay the principal of, premium, if any, and interest on such financial obligations or to create a reserve for same; and shall the city be authorized to issue financial obligations to refund or refinance such financial obligations authorized in this question, provided that such refunding financial obligations when combined with other outstanding financial obligations authorized in this question do not exceed the maximum principal limits or repayment costs authorized by this question?

How would it work?

You are voting on whether to let the city issue general obligation bonds. So by voting yes on 2E, you are allowing the city to borrow money to pay for the construction of a new, roughly 10,000-seat multi-use arena that could serve as a replacement to the Denver Coliseum, and for renovations to the 1909 Stadium Building. The $160 million for the arena would cover some of the costs toward building it; officials have said it will cost $210 million total to complete. The $30 million would go toward renovating the historic 1909 building into a public market.

These bonds don't come with a tax increase; however, it's possible that at some points in the future, the city may increase taxes to help pay these bonds back. The bond amounts include money to pay for the project, as well as what's called a contingency; so basically, extra money providing a cushion in case the initial projected amount isn't enough.

Who's for it and who's against it?

Hancock and the city's Chief Financial Officer, Brendan Hanlon, are pushing this bond package as part of the city's overall recovery from the pandemic. The city believes these projects will help create jobs and bring more money to the city by improving and maintaining these spaces. However, both have been met with some pushback from Denver City Council members, including Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, who represents the district and said the money requested does not represent the interests of the people who live in this part of the city. It's City Council's job to put certain things like general obligation bonds on the ballot (it's why it says "referred" on your ballot, since they put on their for you to consider).

The projects and their implications prompted council members to make a separate question for them -- these two projects were originally supposed to be part of Referred Question 2A, the one asking to borrow money for city buildings. Council members decided to separate them, thus giving voters an opportunity to vote specifically on whether to use borrowed money to build a new arena and renovate the historic building at the National Western Center campus.

Political committee RISE Denver supports this and all other bond measures, and a political committee called Friends of National Western Stock Show is campaigning to approve this project as well (the group has started sending out mailers), while Vote No on the Arena Bond is a political committee opposing 2E. There are also community members who have said publicly they do not support the project and don't want bond money spent this way.

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