DENVER — The National Western Stock Show grounds haven’t changed much over the past few decades. A visitor can expect virtually the same walk year after year through the Hall of Education and the cow barns underneath. The stockyards just north of the grounds don’t look much different than they did in photos from the 1930s.

That’s going to change starting next year. Those stockyards will move north, and where they are now will be the beginning of a livestock arena that is slated to open sometime before 2023. This will be just one aspect of what will be a year-round, $765 million complex that will radically change the stock show experience – something that might be one of the few things in Denver that’s been unchanged over the decades.

But before you freak out …

“We’re definitely honoring the history,” reassured Jenna Espinoza-Garcia, the communications director for the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center.

That means the historic livestock exchange building (and presumably the saloon there) will stay put, though its backdrop of industrial space will be replaced with Colorado State University research buildings and new green space along the Platte River.

The historic Livestock Exchange building at the National Western Stock Show Complex.
Allison Sylte, KUSA

But, somewhere down the line (it all depends on how quickly the National Western Center can procure a public-private partnership) that Hall of Education, Events Center and maybe even the Denver Coliseum will be replaced. And the stock show that’s been unchanged for decades will finally go the way of the rest of the Mile High City.

This story is part of our weekly 9Neighborhoods series. Join us on the 9NEWS Instagram at noon on Monday for a tour of the grounds. 

Why is this happening? 

You can trace the National Western Center Authority (the nonprofit formed as part of a deal between the city and the stock show) to 2011, when one of the city’s biggest tourism events said it wanted to move away from its spot near Interstate 70 and Brighton Boulevard for somewhere with upgraded facilities.

Cut to 2012, when Denver Mayor Michael Hancock created a task force to stop that from happening. The Denver Urban Renewal Authority would go on to propose ways to use the city’s lodging and rental taxes to fund an upgrade. And that included expanding the 130-acre campus to 250-acres, though part of the bargaining was making it a “year-round hub for education and research,” rather than one where the bulk of the activity is centered on a slightly over two-week period.

A look at the back of the Livestock Exchange building at the famous Stockyard Saloon.
Allison Sylte, KUSA

In 2015, the Colorado General Assembly gave the state treasurer permission to allocate $100 million to keeping the stock show, and that same year, voters approved Measure 2C, which gave lodging and rental tax to the project.

The agreement was that the revamped stock show grounds would bring in 2.2 million visitors a year rather than the more than 700,000 annually it sees now. And Colorado State University agreed to become a partner on the new campus and house multiple agricultural facilities there.

Of course, adding a huge new facility to neighborhoods as historically diverse and working class as Globeville and Elyria-Swansea can create its own set of concerns. This is why representatives from these communities have also been giving input in the National Western Stock Show Center.

“We’ve definitely taken into account that it could fundamentally change the dynamic of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Espinoza-Garcia said.

And, Espinoza-Garcia also pointed to the Community Investment Fund set up by the city of Denver as proof. What this does is allow people who spend money on the National Western grounds to round up their purchases to support projects chosen by the community.

New bridges are also aimed at connecting people who live in Globeville to the National Western Complex.

And as for the National Western Center Authority, the city is pretty serious about its success. It has a 100-year lease on the campus from the city of Denver.

What exactly is changing? 

The historic arena at the National Western Complex will be preserved as part of the massive overhaul.
Courtesy Denver Public Library Digital Archives

The project is slated to finish in about seven years, and has that happens, events will slowly be moved into new spaces. This means eventually, the Hall of Education and Events Center will be phased out, Espinoza-Garcia said. The historic Stadium Arena, however, will stay put – though it will eventually be surrounded by the new facility.

Throughout the construction, the stock show will remain open, albeit with some events happening in new facilities and some happening in old ones, Espinoza-Garcia said.

“While these changes occur, we want to continue to invite Stock Show goers back each year to see the Super Bowl of stock shows!” Espinoza-Garcia wrote in an email to 9NEWS.

In 2020, for instance, visitors might also see a rail line location near the South Platte to make way for the green space, as well as construction for the massive new equestrian center north of where the stockyards currently are. Crews will also be working on the underground parking facility that will be connected to it.

Those are slated to be complete sometime between 2020 and 2022, and included a show arena and horse barn in addition to the events center.

A walk through what is now the stockyards will instead be a livestock center with a new auction arena and livestock hall.

And the water tower you see to the northwest of the facility (it’s currently in a parking lot flanked by crumbling buildings and the Platte), will move to a new plaza at the center of the new campus that Espinoza-Garcia said will host both indoor and outdoor concerts.

Speaking of the Platte, the stock show is changing the space next to the facility into green space.

Also in the works is a commuter rail station that will be just east of where the facility is now. That's part of the RTD N Line, which will run from Union Station (the stock show's the first stop) to Adams County. When that will be complete isn't necessarily set in stone. 

The station is at the end of the parking lot west of East 48th Avenue and Brighton Boulevard. 

You can watch a video rendering of all of the changes below: