After years of negotiations, the Denver Rock Island Railroad is set to move almost 3 miles of tracks away from the South Platte River, clearing the way for open space, trails and the construction of the National Western Center.
The $16.75 million proposed payment to the railway would end a federal lawsuit that the company filed when negotiations hit a low point. The company will consolidate its tracks to the BNSF corridor at the center of the project. The city will take over the riverside property.
The change eliminates 14 unprotected at-grade railroad crossings.
“And of course by moving those rail lines away from the river, it gives us more space to activate the riverfront,” said Tykus Holloway, executive director for the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center.
On Monday, the Denver City Council approved a partial $1.45 million chunk of the settlement — but the financial details raised objections from some members.
Project leaders had asked the city to pitch in some money from its general fund, even though the center has its own dedicated funding from hotel, state and rental car taxes. Earlier Monday, Mayor Michael Hancock warned that the city’s budget is getting tighter with an uncertain economy.
“We have the dollars in the National Western budget to pay for (the settlement),” said Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech. “Our general fund is tight. We have a growing city … It is my obligation to protect our vulnerable programs.”
She still supports the project and the legal settlement, but she hadn’t gotten a bulletproof guarantee that the money would be repaid to the general fund, she said. Council members Candi CdeBaca, Chris Hinds, Paul Kashmann, Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres joined her in voting no, but they lost the 7-6 vote.
NWC officials said they needed the general fund money because the settlement was more expensive then expected and their other money was committed elsewhere. They would have had to find the $1.45 million elsewhere in their $765 million budget if council rejected the general-fund transfer, they said.
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“We’d have to look at the scope of those other projects and see where adjustments could be made,” said Brad Dodson, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center.
Other council members said that the settlement was crucial to the project, which will reboot the city’s historic stock yards as a year-round tourism, event, education and agricultural innovation center.
The council will vote on the rest of the money for the settlement next week. The remaining $15.3 million will be paid from the project’s current budget.
Construction on the National Western Center is already underway, but projects along the riverfront won’t happen until 2021 to 2023.