AURORA | A massive entertainment complex could be in store for Aurora’s northeastern fringes in coming years if city leaders have their way and voters sign off this fall on a ballot measure that would permit such a project.
Aurora politicos are once again going to ask voters to strike verbiage from the city’s charter that prevents officials from attempting to lure a motor speedway to the city by way of financial incentives, such as tax breaks.
The city unsuccessfully posed a similar ballot question that sought to remove the same stipulation in 2015. With a total of about 47,000 votes cast, the measure fell just 1,081 votes short of being passed, according to City Councilwoman Sally Mounier, who headed the previous effort.
This year, city officials said they believe a more narrowly tailored ballot question that calls for an “entertainment district” — not just a racetrack — in a defined quadrant of land will give them a better shot at getting the measure passed.
“That’s where we went wrong — we didn’t specifically spell out where,” said Wendy Mitchell, president and CEO of the Aurora Economic Development Council. “And I think it gave folks kind of the idea, ‘Well, we don’t know, so it’s looming, it could be anywhere, it could be something that we don’t want in our back yards.’ So that’s why we changed it up, and that’s one of the main reasons why we lost.”
Mayor Steve Hogan said residents in southeast Aurora, near the Tower Triangle area of Adams County and in the Murphy Creek neighborhood all expressed concern over the similar measure in 2015. He said he believes the new language will alleviate most of those fears.
The measure would quarantine a potential entertainment hub to the tract of land north of Interstate 70 and east of Hudson Road, according to proposed language. A development would also be prohibited from breaking ground within a half mile of any property in a residential zone.
Hogan pointed to a 1,700-acre parcel of city-owned land, located roughly near the intersection of 26th Avenue and Hudson Road, about five miles west of Front Range Airport, as a possible home for a recreation multiplex.
More than just a potential Nascar-style motor speedway, that entertainment district could include concert venues, retail strips or even a minor league baseball stadium, Mounier said. Both she and Mitchell pointed to the Kansas Speedway development in Kansas City as a potential blueprint for Aurora’s vision. That venue is hugged by an outlet mall, a baseball stadium, a water park, a casino and other developments.
The city has not been in any talks with potential racetrack or entertainment venue developers, according to Mitchell.
The proposed measure, which has yet to receive an official title on the ballot, comes nearly 20 years after Aurora voters passed a measure blocking city officials from offering financial incentives to motor sports developers. The preventative clause was added to the city charter in 1999 after a citizen group, Concerned Residents Against Speedway Havoc, successfully convinced voters to pass the prohibitive measure.
The raceway ban later became marred in controversy after it halted a raceway promoter from pursuing a project in the city. City officials also accused owners of the Colorado Springs Pikes Peak International Raceway of floating cash to the campaign backing the measure in an effort to ensure they wouldn’t lose business to a potential new track in Aurora.
“The only reason that this prohibition is in our charter is that some folks from Colorado Springs decided that they didn’t want competition and they came up here and spent an awful lot of money, convincing the citizens of Aurora that we ought to have something in our charter that absolutely should not be in our charter,” Hogan said.
Hogan and Mitchell added there was no organized opposition to the measure in 2015, and Hogan said he doesn’t expect there to be a coordinated push to squash the effort this time around.
Despite sagging attendance at motor racing events across the country, Hogan and others said a new venue in Aurora could fill a geographic racing hole in the Mountain West.
“If we would be lucky enough to get something that is related to NASCAR, for example, the closest tracks to Colorado are Kansas City, Texas (Motor Speedway) … or Phoenix,” he said. “So there’s nothing anywhere close to us in terms of geography.”
Mitchell said while the proposed ballot measure would not by any means guarantee Aurora would get a racetrack or any entertainment venue, it would simply make the option available.
“It’s guaranteeing nothing,” she said.
Both Hogan and Mitchell said an entertainment venture could dovetail with the city’s forthcoming Gaylord Rockies Hotel & Convention Center, the proposed “aerotropolis” surrounding Denver International Airport, Front Range Airport, as well as several large housing developments slated for the city’s eastern fringes.
“The economic impact is huge,” Mitchell said.
Dick Wadhams, longtime Republican political strategist, will head the city’s campaign, Mounier said. Former Aurora Mayor Paul Tauer will serve as the campaign chairman.
The city is expected to introduce an ordinance calling for the ballot measure at the regular city council meeting June 5. The city council unanimously backed the ordinance calling for the earlier version of the measure in 2015.
Mounier said she expects her peers to back the new ordinance Monday night.
“I can’t imagine the council turning this down,” she said. “This is just so valuable for our citizens.”