Gaylord Rockies becomes anything but plains



AURORA | With only about a year left before the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center opens, Dave Bray couldn’t help but grin as he strolled across the dirt toward the south side of the hulking hotel-construction this week.

Bray, vice president of architecture and construction for RIDA Development, and the man leading the construction project, noted that because of some shrewd building decisions and mild weather, the biggest hotel project under construction in the country is right on track — despite a planned time-line that Bray admits was “aggressive.”

“If you had told me a year ago we would be this far along, I would have taken it,” he said as he traipsed across the former dusty prairie scrub that will one day be dotted with lounge chairs and guests relaxing outside the pool house.

Gaylord and RIDA gave local media a tour of the hulking hotel this week, the first public look at the site since crews broke ground.

The late 2018 opening date hotel and city officials have targeted remains in reach, Bray said.

So far, this winter has been particularly mild, which has helped, Bray said. But beyond the benefits of sunny days and minimal snow, he said the project is motoring along because of some decisions project leaders made early on.

One of the biggest was to put a false roof in early on about half way up the building. That meant the work on the lower levels could go forward with some cover well before the actual roof was complete.

And crews hit their goal of having the project “dried in” by Thanksgiving, meaning the roof is complete enough to allow interior work — in particular the daunting task of hanging drywall for 1,500 rooms — to go forward regardless of how nasty the Colorado winter might get.

Construction should be largely complete sometime next summer, Bray said, but that doesn’t mean work will be done.

Furnishing a project this size will take months, Bray said, and already work is underway to get much of the furniture and equipment Gaylord needs ordered.

Still, Bray said there have been challenges.

Colorado’s unemployment rate has hovered well below 5 percent for months now, and Bray said some of the subcontractors have had a hard time finding the workers they need. In the case of roofers, he said a contractor had to recently get 15 from Kansas City and another five from Phoenix to come to Aurora for six weeks to finish a stretch of roof.

But the fact that the project is the biggest hotel under construction anywhere in the United States has been a useful selling point for prospective workers.

“People are proud to work here,” he said.

And it isn’t just the more than 1,300 construction workers — plus a few hundred staffing the small city of construction trailers on the southern edge of the site — working on the project every day. A few blocks to the northwest is Gaylord’s temporary sales office where staffers have already booked about 600,000 room nights for the hotel.

Gaylord by the numbers:

• 2 million square feet of space
• 1,501 guest rooms including 114 luxury suites
• 485,000 square feet of meting and convention space
• A 175,000 square foot exhibit hall with “elephant doors” big enough to drive semi trucks through
• More than 1,400 construction employees every work day
• 74,000 cubic yards of concrete and 8,500 tons of reinforcing steel
• An anticipated more than 450,000 new visitors per  and 1,550 permanent jobs when open
• 79 subcontractors
• 10 Food and Beverage outlets totalling 1,344 seats and 60,000 square-feet of kitchen space
• A 24,000 square foot sports bar with 460 seats and a 75 foot long, 14 foot high LED screen
• 7 pools and water features, including an indoor and outdoor pool and lazy river

Michael Kofsky, director of sales and marketing for Gaylord Rockies, said about 85 percent of the clients who have booked Gaylord have never hosted their convention in Colorado.

Many of the groups that have added Gaylord Rockies are on what could be called the Gaylord circuit — they book their annual convention at one of Gaylord’s properties every year. They might do Nashville one year, the Gaylord Texan another, and now Gaylord Rockies.

But Kofsky said that isn’t really the goal for his staff. While they’re certainly happy to have those regular visitors, Kofsky said his team is aiming to lure new clientele that hasn’t booked a Gaylord for one of their events.

Among the customers already set to visit Gaylord Rockies is Commvault, a data protection and information management software company. The New jersey-based company booked 6,000 room nights for October 2019.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring even greater value to our customers, and hosting our annual conference in unique locations that offer easy access, world-class conference facilities, top-notch lodging and a thriving cultural scene allows us to do just that,” said Janyce Harper, director of customer events for Commvault.

To help with their sales pitch, Gaylord built two model hotel rooms at the sales office. Just down a hallway from where the sales team sits are two fully-furnished rooms that look exactly like the bulk of the 1,500 rooms at Gaylord Rockies will.

One of the swank models has a single king bed and the other has two queens, a set up Kofsky said makes up the bulk of the hotel’s rooms.

Kofsky said the hotel is trying to maintain a “mountain lodge” feel, with mountain-themed decor in the guest rooms and ample views of the Rockies and downtown. Chief among those views is the Grand Lodge, which features a nine-story southwest-facing window facing Downtown Denver and the Rockies.

Kofsky said that view — which he and his staff make sure to show off to prospective customers — will always be there because a protected view corridor means no construction can block it. Beyond the mountain feel, the resort has also incorporated a few nods to its hometown in the construction. The huge Aurora Ballroom and Exhibit hall tops 175,000 square feet and features doors big enough to drive a semi truck through, something Kofsky says ensures the options are nearly limitless when it comes to what can be displayed.

Two of the board rooms are also named for two of the project’s biggest local cheerleaders: Mayor Steve Hogan and Aurora Economic Development Council president and CEO Wendy Mitchell, two leaders who helped secure millions in controversial tax breaks that made the project possible.

“I’m proud to have been a part of the team that made this a reality, and look forward to seeing it open to the public,” Mitchell said.

Gaylord Rockies has made more than 20 hires already, including the new general manager who is set to take over early next year. Kofsky said the bulk of the hiring — which includes hotel and restaurant staff — will happen next summer.