OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Gaylord Rockies hotel and convention center hosts grand opening

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AURORA | The ribbon is finally cut.

The 1,501-room Gaylord Rockies hotel and convention center officially opened for business Tuesday morning, culminating more than eight years of negotiations and construction.

There was no shortage of gawking at the specifications of the hotel — the largest in the state — and recollections of hard work from government officials and the project’s development team.

“It’s amazing,” said Denver resident Willy McCarty, 54, who came to book a stay at the resort.

McCarty and hundreds more packed the lobby overlooking the Grand Lodge, an expansive gazebo framing views of downtown Denver and the Rockies beyond, to hear remarks from the likes of RIDA Development Corporation President Ira Mitzner, Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare, outgoing Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman and Wendy Mitchell, CEO of the Aurora Economic Development Council.

Mitchell, who helped navigate about $300 million in tax incentives from the state and City of Aurora, teared up during her remarks.

Mitzner thanked local government officials and recalled unnamed “naysayers” of the project who were vocal at community meetings in the past, but were few to be found on Tuesday.

The hotel and convention center is vast, boasting more than two million square feet of space, seven bars and restaurants including a 550-person capacity sports bar, two indoor waterfalls, a fountained lake, and 486,000 square-feet of meetings and convention space.

Gaylord already has bookings through 2028, said marketing director Deanne French, and 80 percent of those 1.1 million reservations will be first-time visitors to Colorado.

French said she suspects most of those staying at the hotel this week will be locals. The first convention isn’t until January, she said.

McCarty, the Denver resident, said he regularly drove construction workers to-and-from the upcoming Gaylord in the last three years.

“I watched it come from the ground up,” he said, looking west out of the enormous windows. “Man, that’s an amazing view of the city and the mountains.”

McCarty said he and his wife will be booking a stay — as will Janet and Frank Philipp, residents of the nearby High Point development.

“We love growth. We love progress,” Janet said. “There’s been nothing out here,” she said of the area around Gaylord.

As the ceremony concluded, the two haggled with a Russian accented-hospitality staffer about parking rates, while the check-in line grew.

The attention quickly turned to lunch. Local residents in bluejeans and Mickey Mouse sweaters mingled with others donning suits and stilettos in the gourmet cafeteria for hamburger sliders.

In the sports bar, the 75 foot-long TV display projected nine massive screens of sports games and commentary.

Like many of the developers and local government officials, the journey to opening was personal for Laura Mitzner Paletz, RIDA Vice President and the daughter of President Ira Mitzner.

RIDA was founded by Laura’s grandfather, David Mitzner, a survivor of the Holocaust and a Soviet gulag who came to the U.S. and became a development magnate.

He died last year at 101 years old. Laura said she wished he could have seen the finalized Gaylord project.

“It was on his bucket list for sure,” she said.

Gaylord Rockies is the latest addition to Marriott Hotels and Resorts’ mega-hotel network, popular for large business conventions.

Three vast convention rooms, named respectively for the City of Aurora, Adams County, and Colorado, are a nod to the years of negotiations leading to the hotel’s opening Tuesday.

A meeting room is also named for former mayor Steve Hogan, who spearheaded the project before dying last spring.

In his remarks, Ira Mitzner said the hotel is imbued with Hogan’s spirit.

The hotel developers weathered withering controversial lawsuits and investment challenges to secure about $300 million in tax incentives from the City of Aurora and more than $80 million in tax rebates from the state.

After relentless efforts by political and hotel competitors to kill the massive project, it prevailed.

Colin Reed, CEO of project financiers Ryman Hospitality Properties, said the Gaylord project also persevered through the occasional “screaming matches” between development teams.

“Now we’re going to make some money, and have some fun,” Reed said.