Larimer County’s fairgrounds and special events complex — The Ranch — is expected to undergo a host of major improvements in the years to come, including the possible replacement of the Budweiser Events Center.
Among projects in the latest master plan for the Loveland facility are: a new 10,000-seat, multipurpose events center, a new full-service hotel with at least 250 rooms, a 60,000-square-foot exhibition hall for trade shows, and a recreational sports complex with three sheets of ice and a pool for competitive swimming and diving.
Which projects get built and in what order depends on the availability of funding, especially in the form of public-private partnerships to finance a hotel and events center, county officials say.
The Ranch, which opened in 2003, is well used but needs to expand its facilities to meet market demands and changing expectations, said Chris Ashby, director of The Ranch.
“There are some choices they made when building the facility for budgetary reasons that we would like to correct,” Ashby said.
Some buildings, such as the First National Bank exhibition hall, are too small to attract major trade shows. The proposed new exhibition hall would have 35-foot ceilings and extra-wide doors for bringing in equipment for display.
“If we want to elevate the quality of trade shows we can bring to the facility, then we need a class A trade show space,” he said.
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Commissioners recommended approval of amended plan
The Larimer County commissioners on Dec. 16 recommended approval of the amended master plan for The Ranch to the county planning commission. They also approved an implementation plan for improvements described in the master plan.
Projects in the implementation plan will be funded on the county side by a sales tax dedicated to The Ranch that voters extended in 2017 when they approved the facility’s master plan.
After 18 months of work with consultants and stakeholders and extensive market research, county officials developed the implementation plan and its proposed projects.
The hotel and new event center were put in the plan based on the market research with the understanding that private financing would be needed to build them, Ashby said.
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The Ranch tax is expected to raise about $260 million over 20 years. The figure assumes a 3% annual population growth rate in Larimer County. The estimate is “conservative” given that the county has seen 5% annual increases in recent years, Commissioner Tom Donnelly said. The amount of revenue generated by the tax could end up higher.
Donnelly said the county should not shy away from developing projects that would benefit the community’s youths now “because we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to afford them” and then end up with millions of dollars left over.
Possible alternate projects include a dedicated indoor riding arena for 4-H participants as well as classrooms and livestock facilities.
Ashby said projects in the master plan are concepts that will be fleshed out over time. The cost of projects in the implementation plan is about $230 million and do not include a new hotel or multipurpose arena.
The Budweiser Events Center could be renovated to improve the experience of visitors, but it cannot be successfully converted to other uses because of the way it was built, Ashby said. If a new arena were built, the existing center would “go away.”
The first Ranch improvement will be to move Arena Drive to the outer edge of the campus and connect it with new entrances on the southeast and northern edges of the property, Ashby said.
Project included in county’s 2020 budget
The current road runs between campus buildings and visitor parking areas. Pedestrians must cross the street, causing traffic backups and delays.
The $12 million project is included in the county’s 2020 budget. The work includes moving underground utilities.
New entrances to the complex will be at signalized intersections with dedicated turn lanes.
REGIONAL GROWTH: Plans for ‘The Brands’ development turn toward tourism
Roadway changes at the The Ranch site would be coordinated with The Brands, a massive entertainment and tourism project proposed by developer Martin Lind, south of the county’s property and west of Interstate 25.
Lind, who owns the Colorado Eagles hockey team, told the commissioners the county’s plan was “magnificent” and would give an economic boost to the region.
With private investment, the county could see $500 million going into The Ranch property, he said.
“The youth and community support of all of Northern Colorado is going to be greatly affected by your decision today,” Lind said. “We applaud the efforts here and we’re very excited.”
Kevin Duggan is a columnist and reporter. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by subscribing: See Coloradoan.com/subscribe to learn how.
The Ranch’s future
Potential projects at The Ranch include:
- Relocate Arena Drive to the outer edge or parking and create two new entrances to the property
- A new 60,000-square-foot trade show facility that would be attached to a new full-service hotel
- A recreational sports complex with three ice sheets and a swimming facility with practice space for local teams. The ice sheets could be converted to accommodate indoor activities such as basketball, indoor soccer, tennis, pickleball and other court sports depending on market demands.
- Expansion of equine and livestock facilities, including a 70,000-square-foot barn, a covered show arena with seating for 2,000 people, several outdoor warm-up areas, and parking and RV camping facilities with full-service connections.
- Conversion of the First National Bank exhibition hall into a 4-H youth and community building. The facility would include space for Colorado State University extension offices.
- Conversion of the McKee Building into administrative offices for The Ranch.
- Renovate the existing Budweiser Events Center or build a new 10,000-seat facility, depending on the availability of private-sector financing.
- Build a dedicated 4-H indoor riding arena building that would include classrooms and livestock facilities.
- Build a dive well at the recreational sports center as part of a warm-up pool.
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