Partnerships for the win
Success requires partnerships. Regional collaboration is part of our brand in Colorado. The Aurora Economic Development Council has been a part of numerous regional initiatives since its inception, benefiting Aurora and Adams and Arapahoe Counties as well as the entire Metro area and state.
Creating a transformational magnate, Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center
You would be hard-pressed to find a Coloradoan who doesn’t know about the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center. But about a decade ago, that wasn’t the case. In a story of diligence, perseverance, and unbounded optimism, we worked tirelessly to help create this economic development giant that now towers over northeast Aurora in Adams County.
Gaylord hotels are destinations that catalyze development at incredible levels, transforming the areas around them. Seeing the opportunity to catalyze development in Aurora and Adams County near Denver International Airport while bringing in thousands of out-of-state visitors (and their dollars) via large conferences, we got involved. We threw our proverbial hat in the ring, vying for the project to come to Aurora instead of other Colorado cities that were being considered. In the end, what we had to offer in terms of an operating environment, development experience, and optimal location, won out in the site selection process.
As with any project of this magnitude, there were a few bumps along the way. We fought to keep the project viable, finding new partners several times and gaining financial support from local jurisdictions and the state through the Regional Tourism Act. And we sought and gained support from more than 100 surrounding governments, businesses, and groups to ensure the project would remain in Aurora even with other localities vying for it.
In 2018, the massive 1,501 room, 1.9 million square feet hotel and resort (which includes more than 485,000 square feet of exhibition, meeting, pre-function and outdoor space, eight food and beverage outlets, a waterpark, and other amenities) opened its doors. It was a celebration of our tenacity and belief in Aurora, Adams County, and the entire region. And it has delivered on its promises to the state. It opened with 1.1 million room nights booked and has drawn massive conferences and events. More than 80% of the visitors it attracts have never been to Colorado, proving its worth as a tourism destination bringing in out-of-state dollars.
Outside of the resort’s walls, the impact has been felt on the surrounding area with significant development momentum being created. Businesses recognize the value of being close to the Gaylord Rockies. Ancillary development including hotels and other amenities has sprung up. And we’re continuing to work tirelessly with our partners on attracting even more primary employers and investment to the area.
Securing USDOT funding for Picadilly interchange project to catalyze development
As development in Aurora pushes forward, infrastructure improvements are essential. A new interchange at I-70 and Picadilly Road and an accompanying extension of Picadilly Road between Smith Road and Colfax Avenue is needed to provide a vital transportation connection between existing industrial parks and future commercial and residential developments. The project will ensure that key primary employers and employment hubs are efficiently linked and contribute to the regional, state, national, and even international economy.
To make this happen, both public and private funding was required. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, the City of Aurora applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for a $25 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grant for the $56.6 million project.
We collaborated with the City of Aurora on its grant application each of the three years providing information and local and federal advocacy. We gathered letters of support from private sector stakeholders including our member organizations, contributed our own letter of support, and in 2019, coordinated a meeting for private sector attendees with USDOT while in Washington, D.C. on our sister organization Accelerate Colorado’s Business Mission.
In November 2019, USDOT announced its BUILD Grant award recipients which included the City of Aurora’s Picadilly Interchange project. The City received the full $25 million request for funding, the maximum amount per project under USDOT’s BUILD multimodal surface transportation grant program, making the project one of only six projects in the entire country to receive this amount.
Construction commenced in 2021 and is slated for completion by 2023.
Advocating for an economic development electricity rate to add to our toolkit
To offer competitive pricing plans and meaningful incentives to attract and grow large businesses in Colorado, we partnered with Xcel Energy to create an economic development electricity rate that mirrors successful programs in other states and takes advantage of an efficient use of existing utility infrastructure.
In 2017, discussions started with the idea of introducing state legislation to create the program. We collaborated with Xcel Energy to help craft the draft legislation with economic development input and brought in industry partners to gauge interest and discuss its potential. In 2018, HB18-1271 Public Utilities Commission Electric Utilities Economic Development Rates was introduced during the Colorado General Assembly session. The bill allows the Public Utilities Commission to approve economic development rates to help encourage commercial and industrial power customers to locate or expand their operations in Colorado.
Once the bill was introduced in the House, we immediately began advocating in favor of the legislation using all our available resources. After being assigned to the House Transportation & Energy Committee for consideration, we testified before that committee in favor of the bill. After passing out of committee and the full House, the bill was referred to the Senate and its Business, Labor, & Technology Committee where we testified in favor of the bill before that committee as well. The bill was passed out of both the Senate committee and the full chamber and was signed into law by then-Governor Hickenlooper on June 1, 2018.
In 2020, Xcel Energy filed the proposed economic development rate with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Under the rate, eligible companies will receive a lower electric rate price for up to 10 years. Tiered pricing will gradually step down over a multi-year term.
To qualify, a new or expanding business must:
- Add 3 to 20 megawatts of new electric load
- Agree to locate or expand commercial operations within our Colorado service territory
- Demonstrate that the cost of electricity is a critical consideration in location or expansion
- Show that this economic development rate is a substantial factor in their decision to expand in, or move to, Colorado
Bringing Colorado one mile closer to space with Colorado Air and Space Port
Colorado has one of the strongest aerospace industries in the U.S. In an extension of this prowess, Adams County sought to acquire Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designation for Front Range Airport as a space port allowing it to add FAA-licensed sub-orbital spaceflight capabilities to its current general aviation operations. In 2015, it began the process for applying to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) for a spaceport designation and a launch site operator’s license. Both would provide access to space for scientific research, education, and space tourism in the short term, and point-to-point, high speed, sub-orbital transportation to other international spaceports in the future.
Sounds exciting, right? We recognized the incredible economic development opportunity a spaceport would have not only to Adams County but to the entire state of Colorado and immediately began working with Front Range Airport and Adams County to support this endeavor. We brought in our member organizations and local partners to gain support for the project, ensuring they understood the potential for economic impact and attraction of primary employers. And in 2018 we reviewed the FAA’s Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Front Range Airport’s site operator license and submitted a letter to the FAA in support of the application.
In August 2018, the FAA gave final approval for the Colorado Air and Space Port (CASP). As the 11th such facility in the nation, CASP will serve as a horizontal launch facility for sub-orbital spaceflight, utilizing FAA-licensed reusable launch vehicles that would take off and land from existing airport runways.
Since CASP received its spaceport designation, we have partnered with Adams County and Front Range Airport to educate stakeholders about this important Colorado asset. We’ve connected industry and subject matter experts, elected officials, industry and research organizations, and members of the public and private sectors to cross-pollinate ideas and catalyze new development.
CASP now stands at the forefront of the future with a foothold in the technological development of sub-orbital flight and aerospace research and development.