We were hornswoggled, Aurora.
Like it not, the Gaylord Entertainment company took this city and the state for a ride, promising to build an $800 million Western-themed hotel and conference center in Aurora, in exchange for $81 million worth of state-sanctioned tax rebates and another $300 million in tax rebates from the city.
Aurora and the state were strung along by Gaylord, fighting hard to win state approval for the incentives, all the while knowing that they were going to sell the business to the Marriott corporation, which they announced in May.
The clock is running out on making good on the hard-won state incentive deal, which expires in just a few weeks. Aurora Economic Development Council officials and those from the city have put on a brave face about the embarrassing evaporation of the project. Officials there say they’re looking for an outside developer that could step in and build the 1,500-hotel-room and 400,000-square foot conference megacenter near DIA in northeast Aurora.
Even in the best of economic times, that would be a practically insurmountable goal. In these times? It’s not going to happen.
Gaylord sprung the bad news on Aurora not long after the city was able to win a hard-fought battle for state funding and tacit public approval. The deal made between Gaylord, which operates a handful of these massive operations mostly across the South, and Marriott is a complicated pact. In essence, Gaylord keeps the title to the existing hotels and leases them to Marriott to run them. Marriott has made it clear they have no interest in trying to find a way to fund or build such a massive undertaking. And because of the restructuring, Gaylord is essentially no longer in the hotel business. It’s nothing more than a fancy holding company. Such a transformation did not happen suddenly. And even though “business is business,” knowing that so much work from Aurora officials went into the extraordinary incentive offer while Gaylord officials were actively working another offer only serves to just how sincere Gaylord would have been about making good on giant commitments it said it would make to the community.
They insincerely say now that the deal’s not dead, and that if the city were to find a way to bring a developer to the table that they would gladly pull the Aurora project into the pool of other leased properties.
The deal is for all practical purposes, very dead indeed. And Gaylord played Aurora and state officials until they cemented a deal they had been making alongside the Aurora project that would turn over existing businesses to Marriott and end their hotel expansion operations for good.
It’s difficult to see what use there is in Aurora pursuing the project any further. And sadly, because of the nature of the economic development business the city can’t openly scold Gaylord for playing them.
Neither the city nor the AEDC can or will say what it cost to get this project funded, but it was a huge, time-consuming effort. And while those are the breaks in the big, bad business world, at least we can turn a well-deserved scowl toward Gaylord and let them know that their loss in failing to finalize a deal in Aurora was just as large as our own.