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EDITORIAL: Denver goes Gaylord with convention center

By: The Gazette editorial board
June 13, 2017 Updated: June 13, 2017 at 2:32 pm
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View of the exterior of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver on June 17, 2016.

Denver voters approved a tourism tax increase in 2015, after city officials told them it would generate $104 million for improvements to the Colorado Convention Center.

It was honest, fair and legal under Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. It was arguably a wise investment in a public asset that benefits all Coloradans who attend events as diverse as religious expos, political forums and volleyball tournaments.

Suddenly, city officials aren't satisfied with $104 million. They want $233 million.

This isn't some cost overrun because building supplies rang up higher than expected. This is more than a doubling of what taxpayers approved. It is a 124-percent increase in the financial scope of the project.

Their desire for no-holds-barred improvements to the center results from doing nothing to stop the massive Gaylord Rockies resort and convention center set to open in 2018 in Aurora near DIA. The project is funded through questionably legal subsidies and an infuriating disregard for taxpayers' rights and state constitutional process.

The Gaylord funny-money scheme, which includes personal enrichment of for-profit investors, involved a phony "election" by one hand-picked voter from Denver that somehow created a special taxing district. The sordid affair mocks the Colorado Constitution's voter-enacted TABOR, and the taxpayers it was intended to respect.

As Aurora officials concocted and carried out the plan, they created unfair, subsidized competition against the Colorado Convention Center and all other travel-and-tourism related businesses throughout the state. Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Hancock and other Denver officials stood by and barely made a sound.

They could have and should have cried foul. The convention center is their top financial asset, and a perversion of fair and civil process posed a direct and imminent threat. They seemed almost unfazed.

Now faced with losing a fortune in convention business to the Gaylord, Denver officials want public expenditures they could have asked for on the ballot in 2015. They will create another special taxing district, with a pre-determined election outcome that almost guarantees new taxes.

The Denver City Council's business committee voted 6-0 June 7 to create the Tourism Improvement District. The district would allow owners of major Denver hotels to raise the tourism tax by 1 percent at hotels with at least 50 rooms.

The special district election will commit the entire city to bonded indebtedness and tie up $130 million that would otherwise remain in the private sector.

"Many of the city's urban jewels, like the 16th Street Mall, are being degraded by the opioid epidemic and related vagrancy issues the city still doesn't have under control," wrote the Denver Post's editorial board in opposing the shenanigans. "And what about the areas of the city that aren't downtown? Affordable housing? Every new tax increase detracts from possible future city investments."

Aghast at excessive use of special districts, the Post asks, "When does it stop?"

It probably does not stop. The domino reaction is well underway.

Tourism taxes are a legitimate and legal means of funding convention and visitor facilities, but this sudden need for a dramatic increase in spending at the convention center should have been avoided.

When Denver officials stood by and allowed the crooked, record-breaking subsidy of Gaylord, they facilitated construction of a behemoth they must compete against. They failed to protect the Colorado Convention Center, and now must find a way to survive at another big expense to an overburdened tax base.

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