It’s the priciest, most attractive piece of real estate in Pueblo. No other strip of Pueblo property meets at the confluence of tourism and marketing, and few other businesses can match this type of foot and vehicle traffic.
And Pueblo built a gym on it for a discount. It just doesn’t make sense.
To understand how Pueblo got here you have to go back to 2013 when the City of Pueblo wanted desperately to expand the Convention Center and build out more of the Riverwalk properties. Six years ago, the Colorado Regional Tourism Act was almost a godsend that would allow the Riverwalk to finish but it came with a catch. Pueblo would need one unique aspect of the project not found anywhere else.
There was no requirement that the city had to build out its unique draw on the Riverwalk. But the project settled on building a Professional Bull Riders University.
At the time the PBR had missed its job projections requiring the city to partially take back the ground floor level of the PBR Headquarters. It’s a space that has never been completed. Once again this year, PBR’s Sean Gleason said they are looking for a tenant.
In 2012 then-Council member Chris Kaufman told the Denver Post that the project would be “Pueblo: Professional Bull Riders’ University, a worldwide draw.”
The PBR University was the hook needed to seal the deal.
It was anticipated at the time the expansion would bring in $76 million in sales tax revenue by 2049 and those tax offsets would help fund this project.
But what many Puebloans didn’t know at the time was the PBR expansion was a last minute add.
Over the next few years, the PBR didn’t seem like it wanted to be part of the project,failing to sign a letter of intent the state wanted as a sign PBR was committed to the project.
It has always been curious why the city didn’t expand the Convention Center and put together a plan involving the Colorado State Fairgrounds or other local tourism amenities – since the most unique thing statewide is the only statewide tourism complex we have.
Up the road in Colorado Springs, the “City of Champions” project is on track to build an Air Force Academy Visitors Center, a Sports Medicine Complex on the campus of CU-Colorado Springs, an Olympic Museum and two sports venues on Colorado College, a soccer stadium and hockey arena. Their projects are a mix of public and private funding.
In Aurora, their RTA project, the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center, saw rooms filled before the project was finished. Late last year the Colorado Business Journal reported the 1,501-room hotel had booked over “455,344 room nights — 84 percent of which come from conventions that never have come to Colorado before.”
What could have happened in Pueblo doesn’t matter so much now as what did happen.
Pueblo has a new larger convention hall that’s not expected to show a positive revenue. As PULP has reported the convention center serves more as a loss leader, one that attracts tourists and visitors and generates density and warm bodies into Pueblo’s economy.
It will be up to the city and Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority to do what they have been reluctant to do – take an aggressive approach to see more conventions and activities offered at the convention center and Memorial Hall. Building big doesn’t solve these problems; it only makes the stakes higher.
The fights of 2013 moved on to other local issues. Politically, it took several years for the city to gain traction after 3 council members resigned under threat of recall. But it never recovered fully as Puebloans had enough and wanted a mayoral system.
The convention center was built. The state discontinued the RTA program. Denver, Aurora Colorado Springs, Northern Colorado, and Pueblo all checked off the boxes on their tourism wishlists.
This isn’t the end of the story, just the end of a phase. Many of the problems that existed before the expansion of the convention center are still exposed.
As a convention city, Pueblo has to compete with places that offer more amenities. As a convention hall, it will be up to local management to bring those numbers up. The convention center is still not expected to make money. A silver lining is that at least more people are expected to be in the downtown core when larger conventions are held.
The first era of the convention center has largely delivered on the promise of more people and economic growth for the Riverwalk area but that came with managed expectations.
It’s curious and should worry some that there aren’t more businesses or developers wanting to relocate on the Riverwalk. It’s also not a strong sign that PBR’s ground floor still sits empty.
So maybe all this would have been worth it if Pueblo had that one special tourism draw that pushed demand and commanded a fair market price on the Riverwalk – what Pueblo did get is the PBR’s Sports Performance Center — an exclusive gym that will rely on athletes and their families to drive tourism downtown. Its appeal as a tourism draw remains uncertain and unproven.
More reasonable people might argue that a Sports Performance Center could be put anywhere near the Riverwalk and still be a draw without taking away from retail that would have commanded top dollar lease arrangements.
So maybe this fight – one that ended careers, split open a community and put everything on an organization that doesn’t need Pueblo as much as Pueblo needs it – was worth it if the price was right.
That price, for the most prized real estate piece of tourism property in Pueblo is heavily discounted for a “start-up” rate.
What happened is that in 2017 the original lease agreement charged PBR $1500 per month with a five-year agreement. It was called a start-up cost. That’s $1500 for a space that on the commercial market would see 4-5 times that per month.
This Pueblo Convention Center story now ends at the same point it began – searching for an aggressive tourism mentality – in desperate need of that one key tourism draw that makes businesses able and willing to pay top dollar lease rates for downtown Pueblo.