Gaylord Rockies hotel tops off progress in Aurora

Nancy Kristof, a spokeswoman for Mortenson/WELBRO, the construction giant behind the project, said this week construction remains on track for a 2018 completion

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Construction is on schedule at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Conference Center in east Aurora.

AURORA | A few years into construction, the Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center is hard to miss as it looms over the plains on the city’s northeastern edge.

At nearly 2-million square feet, what will one day be the state’s biggest hotel is visible even from parts of central Aurora. 

And near that peak towering over the eastern plains south of Denver International Airport are the signatures of a handful of local muckety mucks who have been among Gaylord’s biggest cheerleaders.

The topping off ceremony, which was closed to the press, marks a major milestone for the project: crews affixing beams to the hotel’s highest point.

Nancy Kristof, a spokeswoman for Mortenson/WELBRO, the construction giant behind the project, said this week construction remains on track for a 2018 completion.

And as construction continues, Aurora’s Gaylord project remains among the biggest construction projects in the region.

Mayor Steve Hogan said this week Gaylord Rockies is the biggest hotel currently under construction in the entire nation.

And already, with still a year worth of construction ahead, the lodging boom Gaylord is expected to bring to the region is starting to take shape.

Early this year, local economic development officials said land purchased by Rida Development Corp., the lead developer behind Gaylord, would be used to build additional hotels, retail business and restaurants. Rida in late 2016 purchased 130 acres near the hotel for $9.23 million, according to the Colorado Real Estate Journal. The swath of land is near Himalaya Road and East 64th Ave.

And Gaylord itself is already filling its calendar.

Early this year officials said the hotel has already booked almost 400,000 rooms.

Tammy Baldwin, a spokeswoman for Gaylord at the company’s headquarters, said the company didn’t have updated booking information to release this week.

In an announcement last year, company officials said the conferences and businesses booking space at Gaylord are almost all — 88 percent — bringing their conference to Colorado for the first time.

About two thirds of the customers booked so far are part of a Gaylord “rotation,” according to the company, meaning they stay at a different Gaylord property for annual conventions.

The company expects about 75 percent of the business at Gaylord Rockies will be conference and convention business, while the rest will be business travelers and locals.

The hotel hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking in early 2016, a moment that had for years seemed like a distant dream as the project sputtered along.

After the city’s boisterous announcement in 2011 that Nashville-based Gaylord had chosen Aurora for its next hotel and conference center, the project appeared to be the sort of marquis development city officials had clamored after for decades.

But with more than $300 million in city and state tax incentives to be handed to the developer, the project raised some hackles even early on.

The plan initially envisioned the National Western Stock Show moving to an adjacent plot of land. Denver officials leery of losing the iconic stock show quickly nixed that move.

Then, in 2012, Gaylord Entertainment said they were getting out of the hotel development business and selling the four Gaylord hotels to Marriott.

The project also faced a lawsuit from a group of Denver hoteliers questioning the various tax incentive plans that had made it possible.

The uncertainty surrounding the lawsuits meant a planned fall 2014 groundbreaking came and went without a shovel in the dirt, but the project eventually prevailed in court. And in fall 2015, the $500 million in financing came through, too.