Broomfield needs a makeover.
One of the fastest-growing communities in Colorado is starting to outpace its existing resources, and city and county leaders are considering a slate of capital projects with a price tag reaching hundreds of millions, including expanding the police headquarters and courts, a new police station, a library expansion and new branch.
But casting a shadow over those discussions is the city and county’s current debt load. While Broomfield officials have said the amount of debt is not a problem, the types of projects with outstanding balances are raising concerns – specifically, the 1stBank Center.
“The debt we have right now, which includes the 1stBank Center, which is tough for everyone to continue to swallow and unfortunately we’re going to be swallowing hard until 2033,” City and County Manager Jennifer Hoffman said at an August City Council study session. “What that conversation leads to is our ability to bond anything else, so Council needs to understand that, as does the community.”
Built in 2005, the 6,000-seat event center has struggled to bring in enough revenue for the city and county to pay its annual debt payments. Broomfield borrowed $36 million from other areas of the budget to pay debt payments before 2021, Chief Financial Officer Brenda Richey said at an August study session.
Broomfield took out $59.7 million in bonds to finance the center in 2005 and at the end of 2021 had $50.9 million left to pay off, including $36.9 million in principal and $13.9 million in interest.
The pandemic hit the center hard, and Broomfield has not received any revenue in the form of profit sharing from the center in recent years.
“It’s a high priority to not just let it rot,” said Broomfield City Councilmember Todd Cohen. “We need to revitalize it, that’s necessary for the bottom line. We don’t want it to sit there and become a mausoleum. We have to find a new approach.”
How Broomfield city and county leaders will go about that revitalization is still in question. Multiple city and county officials as well as business leaders declined to discuss the center, citing an upcoming City Council study session in early 2023.
“There’s still a lot to understand in terms of the history and debt,” said Councilmember Deven Shaff. “It’s continued to be an asset that hasn’t come to fruition. The original plans didn’t come to fruition, and that’s the challenge of where we are with it right now.”
Shaff also cited the upcoming study session for learning more about what possible next steps the city and county can take.
“We have got to look at the future of this space, because to continue to pay debt on it and not have a plan for something that’s that large of an asset is crazy,” he said.
The 1stBank Center is owned by the Broomfield Urban Renewal Authority, a municipal board governed by City Councilmembers, Hoffman and other community members. The center falls under the Wadsworth Interchange urban renewal area and in city budget documents, officials have cited the need to transfer money from other urban renewal areas because “Development in Arista has progressed slower than planned.”
Shaff said he hopes to see a comprehensive look at how the event center can bring more entertainment to Broomfield.
“Solutions have been sought, but I don’t think we’ve ever really looked at it in a comprehensive way to say, we have to deal with this space because we’re just paying money and the current contract isn’t generating the kind of entertainment and excitement to bring in large crowds,” Shaff said. “There are occasionally, but it’s not performing in a way some people had hoped it would.”
Cohen said city leaders are keen to get back to the original promise of the 1stBank Center: a profitable destination entertainment center.
“Obviously the market is changing and COVID dealt a blow, but we want to have an operator who can appropriately market it and book it or find a profitable path so it doesn’t just sit there and become a mausoleum,” he said.
Cohen also acknowledged new competition, like the Mission Ballroom, and that this process may look like the center reinventing itself similar to redevelopment starting at Flatiron Crossing.
“We need to find its niche,” he said.