With sledgehammers and a backhoe, Denver begins demolition work for National Western Center project

Ceremony marks start of ground clearance work two years after voters approved tax extensions

As seen in Denver CBS Local Here.

DENVER (CBS4) – The redevelopment of the stock show complex is closer to becoming a reality.

There was plenty of symbolism Friday when Mayor Michael Hancock climbed aboard a backhoe at the north end of the future National Western Center campus.

With the mayor at the controls, the machine merely tore down a temporary sign reading “International Paper” — the former owner of the building — to reveal the logo for the new center, the focus of a $1.1 billion project led by the city.

When Hancock hopped down, the backhoe operator went to work tearing into the building’s wood siding as the mayor and a large crowd behind him applauded.

That symbolism at the site off Race Court provided a good photo op, but it also heralded a new phase that will bring visible activity to the area next year. The International Paper site, bought by the city for $6 million in October 2015, was the first purchase made to assemble the campus.

There’s plenty of ground-clearance work to do on the eventual 250-acre campus before vast new livestock and equestrian centers can begin rising, likely in 2021.

After the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo’s annual run in January, contractors will begin extensive building demolitions, environmental cleanup, road reconstruction and railroad consolidation.

Following the backhoe demonstration, city officials joined project partner representatives and community members who have served on an advisory committee to swing sledgehammers into the building.

“I’m going to tell you all a little secret today: I like to tear stuff up,” Hancock had said earlier, prompting laughter. “So I have been looking forward to this moment of tearing a building down to get started today” on the project.

Friday was chosen for the ceremony because it marked the second anniversary of Denver voters’ passage of Measure 2C, which authorized extensions of car rental and lodging taxes to help pay for the National Western project.

The decade-long project will transform the area into a year-round tourism, event, education and agricultural innovation center, with Colorado State University set to play a prominent role. The stock show has committed to stay on the campus, which is expected to host 100 more events a year.

“This is going to be about the creation of something brand new — something extraordinary that’s never taken place before anywhere in the world,” said Amy Parsons, executive vice chancellor of Colorado State University. “This is going to be a place of inspiration and creation. It’s also going to be a place for learning, for discovery, for exploration and creativity, for all of our students, young and old.

“It’s going to be a place where we’re going to roll up our sleeves and do the really hard work of research, of policy development (and) of business creation that’s going to identify and help to address some of the world’s most pressing issues in food, water, agriculture, sustainability — locally and nationwide.”

After the daytime event, the city and its partners planned to host a family friendly community appreciation event from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the nearby Denver Coliseum.