Aurora doesn’t need a gimmick.
Last month’s news that Gaylord Entertainment sold day-to-day operations to Marriott was a shock to nearly everyone involved, except Gaylord. According to Marriott officials, the Aurora project would proceed with a “minimal financial commitment” by that company, and large projects — such as the one in Aurora— wouldn’t be in the company’s future.
Negotiations for the $210 million purchase by Marriott began six months ago, well before Gaylord insisted to the city that anything less than all-in by taxpayers would be unacceptable, and even before Gaylord told a state commission that this type of sale wouldn’t derail plans for the Aurora project.
It’s easy to point fingers at Gaylord for this debacle, although Aurorans shouldn’t. Both Gaylord and Marriott are for-profit businesses and acting as businesses should: by putting investors first.
As Aurorans we should do the same: put our city first.
Some local lawmakers and others panned the idea of giving up to $350 million in tax incentives to a private company in order to earn their business. Those people were right in saying that putting cities in the business of wooing private entities by using tax dollars as collateral is dangerous.
However, in our current economic condition, government spending and incentives is the right way to spur growth and encourage employment. Instances of where public-private partnerships have been fruitful for both entities are plentiful.
Make no mistake, Aurora’s deal is on the ropes.
Government and economic leaders insist that life goes on as normal, as if the sale never happened, but it’s hard to imagine how. First, the city and its economic development committee would have to find a hotelier with a spare $800 million to spend in order to cover the cost of the project. Second, it would have to find a hotelier that wants to build a Western-themed center it had no part in designing. A massive change to the application submitted to the state for tax dollars would disqualify its approval. Third, they’ll have to do both in fewer than 120 days.
Aurora has another big concern looming in the next four months that involves massive, multi-million dollar investments by taxpayers: light rail. It’s time to let this one go.
In the same meeting where city councilmembers discussed the events leading up to the sale of Gaylord to Marriott, they also discussed what currently makes Aurora attractive to businesses and employers.
Both Buckley Air Force Base and the medical center growing on the former Fitzsimons Army Hospital site are massive boons to Aurora. These are established economic assets that don’t need to be hawked in front of state commissions. Lawmakers recognize the importance of both; they understand the need to foster their growth and ensure that those two hubs continue to employ thousands of Aurorans in the future.
Let’s do that.
Improving access to the medical campus would secure its viability as a regional employment hub. Protecting Buckley’s airspace and offering incentives to aerospace companies to grow in Aurora would enhance the site’s viability in the face of pending base closures.
Well before Gaylord Entertainment ever came to town, Aurora has seen plenty of massive economic proposals. Failed projects have ranged from ballparks to racetracks, museums to man-made ski mountains, sci-fi worlds to everything in between.
Aurora’s long-term growth can’t be pegged on a cowboy hotel. The city’s economic future will instead be driven by the two massive economic assets that are already here. We just don’t need a gimmick.