Town hall on proposed event center sparks discussion
Supporters of the proposed Grand Junction event center encountered questions about traffic, parking, noise, safety and projected earnings at the latest of their informational meetings on Sunday afternoon.
Voters will decide at the April 4 election whether to approve the 5,200-seat multipurpose event center and renovation of Two Rivers Convention Center, funded by a one-quarter percent sales tax. The increase would bring Grand Junction’s sales tax to 7.9 percent, equal to the rate charged in Delta and Fruita.
Members of the committee supporting Referred Measure 2A talked with more than 140 attendees about the economic impact of the project, which would be anchored by a AA minor league hockey team. Supporters urged the crowd to consider the event center an investment in the local economy, not just a place for Disney on Ice, monster truck rallies or sports.
Three candidates for Grand Junction City Council — Jesse Daniels, Duke Wortmann and Mayor Phyllis Norris — also spoke to attendees and encouraged them to vote for the event center.
“At some point, we have to move the needle,” said Wortmann, adding that he didn’t want to vote against anything that could boost the economy in Grand Junction.
The event center is projected to host up to 12 main concerts or events annually, as well as up to five family-oriented shows and 38 home games for hockey.
There was some discussion of why the event center is proposed for downtown, which limits its size and raised some concerns with traffic and parking.
John Hager, a Grand Junction resident since 1974, said he’s concerned about people walking across First Street to their parked cars, after concerts or events.
“I’m not against this, I’m not for it, I think my biggest concern is safety,” he said. “I think this would work. I’m not real impressed with the location.”
Supporters said the economic impacts that come from drawing visitors into downtown, encouraging them to eat and shop, would be diminished by locating the event center elsewhere, such as Matchett Park, the fairgrounds or on 24 Road, sites considered when the event center was considered back in 2003.
They also said the intent is to combine the management of Two Rivers Convention Center and the proposed event center, which wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t located together.
Supporters also said an event center could trigger the revitalization of the lower downtown corridor, stretching all the way to the railroad tracks on the south. One of the areas mentioned was the property including the historic railroad depot, which sold recently.
Jodi Niernberg, a member of the committee as well as the co-owner of Bin 707 restaurant and a real-estate agent, said she brokered the sale of the railroad depot and that the owner has plans for revitalizing the station, similar to the multi-purpose remodel of Union Station in Denver.
“He has guaranteed that this will jump-start his project,” she said.
Steve and Kevin Reimer, who built hotels downtown in 2000, 2003 and 2011, told the group they have two more hotels planned if the project passes.
Some attendees expressed disappointment that the proposal is for an event center, not a community center, which voters have rejected twice. Members of the group working toward a community center, PLACE, told the crowd that they were endorsing the event center with the idea that the increased revenues it generates would provide the opportunity for their project to be funded eventually.
Dillon James, who recently moved to Grand Junction, told the crowd that he lived in Boise, Idaho, for 15 years and saw a positive effect of having an event center there, which brought the Steelheads hockey team as well as conventions, concerts and other events.
“I believe the difference between what’s going on in Boise and what’s going on here is an attitude,” he said. “It’s beautiful here. You’ve got biking, you’ve got hiking, you’ve got all these outdoor opportunities. And it’s still crappy here. Why? Because there’s nothing to do. You go other places for music and concerts.”
Event center proponent Landon Balding said Two Rivers Convention Center is turning away as many as 15 potential events each year because it’s not big enough to accommodate the event size. He also said his company, Monumental Events, estimates that between 33 and 60 percent of the tickets they sell to concerts are from out of the area.
According to a study by Hunden Strategic Partners, 385,000 people live within a 150-mile radius, an attractive potential market to concert promoters. The study also estimated the project would generate $30 million of direct new spending to the local economy.
“I came here undecided and I’m still undecided,” said Grand Junction resident Mike O’Boyle after the presentation. “What I’m scared about is the traffic.”
The support committee said they couldn’t specifically address the traffic concerns, as the stretch of First Street running along the west side of Two Rivers Convention Center that becomes Pitkin Avenue is technically a state highway and would likely be reconfigured. “I don’t know how we can honestly answer that today,” said Mike Anton, event center supporter. “But I do think in time, a lot of those issues will be resolved.”