City of Aurora drops Gaylord hotel appeal

A September 2014 rendering of the proposed Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center, a 1,500-room hotel and water park in Aurora.

Senate President Bill Cadman is working on a bill that would require a public vote before agricultural land can be declared blighted and eligible for urban renewal tax incentives, according to a draft version of the bill that The Gazette has seen.

The bill doesn't have a number yet and one of the sponsors told the Denver Business Journal that it may not be introduced in the final days of the legislative session.

Such legislation could impact the Gaylord Rockies hotel and conference center project in Aurora, where the City Council voted to declare 125 acres of undeveloped agricultural land near the Denver International Airport blighted. That vote paved the way for the city to offer millions in tax increment financing incentives that will use increased tax revenue from the development in the future to pay for some of the developer's expenses.

The Aurora Economic Development Council announced Tuesday construction had begun on the project, which has faced delays because of legal challenges of various financial incentives involved in the project, including an estimated $300 million to $400 million in incentives from the city of Aurora and $81.4 million in state sales tax incentives.

"This would be a retro-active measure targeted at Gaylord after we have begun construction," Wendy Mitchell, president and CEO of the Aurora Economic Development Council, said in a statement. "Jobs for Coloradans are at stake - 10,000 of them - the first of those started working this week. To try to kill this project now is telling those people to put down their hard hats and go home."

Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, was not available Thursday for an interview.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel told the Business Journal that the bill was not aimed specifically at the Gaylord Rockies project.

"There's certainly a lot of discussion on this topic, and involving a vote of the people usually represents good government," Scheffel was quoted in the paper. "This is obviously a complex area with a lot of moving parts."

As worded, the bill would prohibit tax revenue from being transferred to a developer without a vote of the people if the land in question started with an agricultural designation.

Lawmakers have tried in the past to prevent the Urban Renewal law from being used to give incentives to developers of agricultural land.

In 2010 lawmakers passed a bill that the sponsors said would close a loophole in the law allowing agricultural land to qualify for tax increment financing incentives intended to subsidize expensive infill development of urban areas.

But that law, House Bill 1107, included language allowing such projects to move forward as long as there was agreement from all of the other taxing entities involved, including school districts and county governments.

Colorado Springs used a blight designation on agricultural land for the Copper Ridge at Northgate development where there is now a Bass Pro Shop. The city placed an additional 1 percent annual sales tax on the property and through tax increment financing that revenue will go to the planned extension of Powers Boulevard.

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