PUEBLO – After more than five-and-half years, Pueblo is nearly finished with the first phase of its Heritage of Heroes and Professional Bull Riders University Regional Tourism Project.
A grand opening ceremony is planned for Friday, May 3 at 4:00 p.m. to celebrate the opening of both new convention center as well as the PBR’s new Sports Performance Center.
The expansion more than doubles the square footage available to prospective convention planners. Rod Slyhoff, president of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, explains that the style of this new convention space should attract bigger events, and thus more tourists.
The current convention can only offer “finished space” with carpeted floors, ballroom dividers and acoustic features that make the venue best suited for business gatherings.
“What we didn’t have was exhibition space, that space that you needed for trade shows and things that support the meetings that you have,” Slyhoff says.
Growth creates new problems. There simply aren’t enough hotel room available downtown to accommodate larger conventions.
“We’ve got about 270 rooms,” says Slyhoff. “Well, you now have a convention center that can easily accommodate groups and conventions of 600 to 800 people.”
The Chamber currently uses shuttle buses to bring guests from the city’s north side hotels to downtown for bigger events. However, Slyhoff says most event planners choose locations that are within walking distance of hotels.
The most likely spot to build a new hotel is on a city-owned parcel located between the convention center and the Brues Alehouse. It’s one of three properties that Minor League Baseball team owner Jeff Katofsky wanted to buy from the city last summer to build new hotels. The deal fell apart when City Council voted to sell that land instead to the highest bidder.
The City has not yet started taking bids for the property. However, multiple sources say the process could begin as soon as this month.
The convention center, a new parking garage, and the PBR facility all complete the first phase of the RTA project. A new boathouse for the riverwalk and an aquatics center will complete the city’s obligations under the tourism award.
“The community should be very, very proud of it, and it’s going to take us to the next level in our tourism destination piece,” said Slyhoff. “I can guarantee you that.”
State lawmakers passed the Regional Tourism Act during the Great Recession of 2009 to spur investment in development projects that could boost tourism and draw out of state investment.
Pueblo was the first to win an award from the Economic Development Commission. The economic development office pays Pueblo a portion of state sales taxes collected here which exceed amounts calculated in September of 2013. Those TIF payments will continue until a maximum award of $35.7 million is reached.
State auditors found in 2017 that Pueblo missed a deadline to secure financing for the RTA project by about 19 months. City Council voted in 2015 to lend itself the necessary money from the 1/2 cent jobs account.