THIS IS HAPPENING: 2015 yields movement on Gaylord Rockies project in Aurora


AURORA | The long-delayed Aurora Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center received half a billion worth of good news in 2015 when developers finally secured a $530 million construction contract with Mortenson Construction and Welbro Building Corp. to finance the 1,500-room hotel.

“What this tells you is the confidence the lending community has, not only in this project and this location, but in the Rockies, the state of Colorado and the entire western part of the United States,” said Ira Mitzner, President & CEO of RIDA Development Corporation, at a press conference announcing the deal earlier this year.

Wells Fargo led a consortium of eight banks from around the world in securing the hefty construction loans for the beleaguered project. The consortium consists of eight banks total.  Following Wells Fargo as the lead financier, Bank of America and Scotia Bank out of Canada will also be providing substantial loans to the project. Crédit Agricole, MidFirst Bank, Citifinancial, Sumitomo Mitsui Bank of Tokyo and U.S. Bank are also lending smaller amounts.

Mitzner said the rest of the money needed to build the hotel for $824 million will come from equity and other sources that include RIDA, their development partner Ares Management and Marriott.

He said the City of Aurora would not be loaning any additional money to the project.

“The city’s obligations have not changed from the beginning,” he said.

Since the project was announced five years ago it has hit several snags, including the original developers dropping out and lawsuits aimed at the taxpayer funding that made up much of the financing.

“Aurora wins. Hoteliers lose,” said Aurora Economic Development Council President Wendy Mitchell in response to continued attempts by Denver hoteliers and statewide critics who have tried to keep the project from going forward.

For several years, the hotel project has battled numerous lawsuits from a group of mostly-Denver area hoteliers.

The hotel plaintiffs have long argued that the massive, western-themed hotel could be built without the $81 million from Regional Tourism Act (RTA) subsidies, and under the state’s rules for the incentives, the subsidies should be taken away.

The hotels are basing their case on a change in the Gaylord project that occurred in 2012 after the incentive money was awarded. Documents leaked to the media about the change when Marriott International Inc. bought the Gaylord Hotels brand showed the cost of the project had decreased from $824 million to $735 million. In 2013, Marriott then worked out a deal with Houston-based RIDA Development Corp. to take over as the new developer and owner of the project with Marriott as the hotel operator.

The hoteliers are still waiting on the ruling of a petition they filed with the Colorado Supreme Court alleging that $81 million in tax subsidies was unfairly awarded to the Aurora Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center.

The 1,500-room Gaylord conference complex will be the largest hotel in the state when completed. According to the AEDC, it will include an indoor/outdoor year-round water park with multiple pools and water slides, including a family play zone, a lazy river and a Colorado ‘hot springs’ experience.

The AEDC estimates the project will create more than 10,000 construction jobs and 1,550 permanent, direct jobs. With 1.9 million square feet on 85 acres, it is expected to attract more than 450,000 net new visitors each year to the state.

— Sentinel reporter Brandon Johansson contributed to this report.