Relocation of the National Western Stock Show
January 23, 2012
This year the National Western Stock Show celebrates its 106th year in Denver, Colo. To put that into a little perspective, in 1906, at the first Stock Show, there were 45 states in the Union, Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States, Colorado was getting ready to celebrate its 30th birthday, there were still people alive that could remember the Civil War, and sirloin was 10 cents a pound. Transportation to the Stock Show in 1906 included street cars, horse drawn carriages and special trains from Union Depot.
There have been continual changes to the National Western Stock Show with the passage of time. The growth of the population, changing demographics of the city of Denver, and also the way that beef gets to market have all had a profound effect on the Stock Show. To its credit, the Stock Show Board was forward thinking and made improvements along the way.
In 1909, the 6,000 seat Stadium Arena was added, which is still in use today. In 1947, Denver taxpayers passed a $1.5 million bond issue for the building of the Denver Coliseum, which was completed in 1952 and is also still in use today. In 1973 the two-level Hall of Education was opened and is still in use today. The Expo Hall and Stadium Hall were completed in 1991 and The Events Center, the state of the art equestrian arena, was added in 1995.
Despite the fact that the Stock Show Complex is showing its age, it continues to be a big economic contributor to Denver with direct spending accounting for a $95.5 million impact. During the last 10 years the NWSS Executive Committee has been trying to find a solution to the most pressing problems that will impact the viability of the future of the National Western Stock Show. An obvious problem is the age of the buildings. Another problem is the far removed and patchwork parking, and much of the land used for parking is leased by the Stock Show from individual owners.
The barns on The Hill are poorly ventilated and the low ceilings keep the ammonia and the chemicals and hair, from the constant grooming, from being properly ventilated. Respiratory problems are so prevalent on The Hill that they have coined their own name – Stock Show Crud.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway mainline railroad runs through the center of the site and there are two spur lines that run through the site as well. The proximity to these rail lines was once vital to the Stock Show. With the emergence of trucking as the primary mover of beef, the location near rail lines has gone from an asset to a liability.
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At 95 acres, the Stock Show is quite small and competitors, like the Houston Stock Show, have over 300 acres. It would be difficult for the Complex to grow its current footprint due to being constrained by I-70 and by dynamic residential neighborhoods. The Complex will actually lose acreage in the future due to an expansion of green space along the river, the relocation of I-70, the new RTD computer rail terminal, and loss to right-of-way required by the new FasTrax North Metro line.
There is no shortage of opinions of what needs to be done, but there is a common thread that is expressed – save the history, save the Yards. The Yards at the NWSS are unique. They are the last remaining outside pens and corrals for open market buying, selling, displaying and marketing of livestock in the United States.
Douthit Herefords has been showing at the National Western Stock Show for 69 years. Four generations have shown their prize Herefords in the Yards. The latest generation, Megan Douthit-Downey has certainly earned the right to express her opinion regarding the Stock Show moving indoors.
“I think that it would be a big mistake. If you go to the other big national shows that used to have stock yards and they went and built high dollar, fancy, modern facilities – you take cattle there now and it is like going to a state fair. It’s killed those shows.” said Douthit-Downey, “What brings people to Denver and why this is THE largest national show, is these Yards and its historic aspect. If you lose that, I think you lose the show or it will be another Louisville or another Kansas City – and numbers are way down there.”
Douthit-Downey continued, “We take cattle to other shows and none are as prestigious as Denver, and they have the new modern facility and did what Denver is talking about doing and it has killed them. This one attracts real cattlemen, not the show people. These Yards attract real cattle people. That’s what makes them unique and why we have come here this long. The Yards down here are the grass roots of the ag industry.”
Continuing the status quo is not an option. According to the annual report of the Stock Show Executive Committee, the option to “Continue to operate at present site, and do nothing” is out of the question. The report states that “there is no financial viability under this option. Continuing down this path is simply a slow process to extinction for the National Western Stock Show.” The cattle industry created the National Western Stock Show 106 years ago, and everyone hopes that the Stock Show Executive Committee finds a way to preserve the working history of the Yards.
What the eventual solution will be has not been determined, but something has to be done, as Denver without the National Western Stock Show is unimaginable.