The Windsor Town Board on Monday, June 21 asked several tough questions to Chris Ashby, the director of the Larimer County Events Complex, The Ranch, during its work session at Windsor Town Hall.

Ashby was in attendance to present to the town board The Ranch’s plans to renovate and expand on its campus, located north of Crossroads Blvd. and east of I-25. Many of the questions were regarding the funding for the upcoming remodel and expansion approved by Larimer County taxpayers in 2017. The Seven-Point Master Plan (here) outlines all upcoming projects estimated to cost around $38 million.

Ashby opened up his presentation by saying, “In 2017, The Ranch went back to the voters to extend the dedicated sales tax that funded the original construction of The Ranch. It is a dedicated .15% sales tax in Larimer County on everything sold, and that is what funded the original construction. It was a 20-year window that expired in 2019. In 2017 it went back to the voters when they were asked to extend it another 20 years. We took the concept that approved the tax and dug into it quite a bit more.”

Ashby elaborated on what he meant by “dug into it more,” saying that he and a group of consultants in the industry looked over the original master plan and amended it. The County Commissioners approved these amendments on Dec. 16, 2020. The county approved a new privately funded hotel and conference center attached or adjacent to a new exhibition hall.

The exhibition hall would replace what is currently the First National Bank Building. Ashby stated, “All the events we do there would now move into more of a true commercial space because that space is somewhat limited as an exhibition facility.” The new space would be a much larger facility than the one that is currently there now.

Ashby also outlined a new recreational center with three ice sheets and a tournament-style swimming pool. The ice sheets would support the Colorado Eagles, a member of the American Hockey League and an affiliate with the Colorado Avalanche, as a training facility and for local youth teams.

Why Does This Matter To The Larimer County Taxpayer?

Bill A1 was passed by the voter in the fall of 2018, extending it another 20 years. The bill allocates 15 cents of every $100 spent in Larimer County to improve The Ranch until 2039. The A1 account has $22 million, but it has yet to be spent by The Ranch on any upgrades or renovations.

The big question on everyone's mind is: why hasn’t that money been spent yet? It has been accumulating for the past two years since the bill was passed, but so far, the taxpayers have received nothing more than a plan for what is to come.

Furthermore, a section of the plan outlines an upgrade to the livestock and equestrian arenas, a niche market even in Northern Colorado. This is a market that also seems to be declining as the area becomes more developed.

Ashby stated that they “identified a market segment that is just slightly beyond where we are now, but somewhat below National Western (Stock Show), so kind of that mid-range.” Ashby also went on to say, “We know we are never going to be able to steal the national show from National Western, but we might take the junior show.”

Another question that arises is this: how much revenue would be generated from expanding those livestock facilities? The county seems to believe it would bring in a lot.

The Windsor Town Board posed questions about the Budweiser Event Center as well. It would be the most expensive part of the proposed plan, costing around $180 million to reconstruct. “That’s almost all of our budget,” said Ashby. “If we built that new building, it would eliminate everything else we could do, so that means we would have to find a private partner to do it.”.

A significant problem that the county is running into is that most of the buildings outlined in the plans are not profitable and operate at a loss. The taxpayer is subsidizing these buildings through the sales tax, making it difficult to get private companies to become funding partners.

What is Currently Being Done?

Ashby stated that the four lots planned for development are not under construction. They will be saved until a private partner funds the hotel. They want the possibility of discussing the placement of the hotel to be open with whoever decides to finance it.

Right now, however, there are no bids for any of the other projects. Ashby promised that the projects would break ground this year despite the lack of bids for most of them.

Currently, The Ranch is in full service to provide vaccines, but that ended Friday, June 25. Full capacity shows, concerts, and sporting events resumed last weekend.

Update: Conversation with Chris Ashby

A week after the article was finished, Townsquare Media reporter Henry Dooley had a conversation with Chris Ashby regarding some questions about the funds from the A1 tax. The first question was about the $29 million in cash reserves. Ashby had previously stated at the Windsor Town Board work session meeting that there was only $22 million in the reserves.

Ashby told Townsquare that he does not know the exact number off the top of his head and that the cash reserves are always changing due to renovations to the Budweiser Event Center.

He then stated that the rest of the money would be used for regrading and roadwork before any vertical construction. Right now, a portion of the money from the fund is being used on a design team so that bids for the construction of the buildings can be sent out.

No bids for any of the buildings have been sent out, but Ashby assured they would be done with the design process by the fall or early spring.

The final questions for Ashby regarded the money that came in during COVID-19. Most of the naming rights for the building during the pandemic were suspended, while others were discounted. All the money from those rights went to facility upkeep, according to Ashby. The money from the state and UC Health also went to keeping the facilities running during COVID.

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