Tomorrow is the official start of the 106th National Western Stock Show. Despite massive crowds year after year its future in Denver is in jeopardy. And city officials are now focused on finding a solution. CPR's Ben Markus has more.
Reporter Ben Markus: In one of the main expo halls at the National Western Stock Show, a big burly guy slides livestock feed bins off a long trailer.
Ralph Northern: My name is Ralph Northern, I’m with Blatner Equipment out of Cimarron, Kansas.
Reporter: Northern has come to the stock show for 15 years. He has no problem with the aging facility.
Northern: Cattle people from all over the nation come in, so it works pretty good.
Reporter: The problem starts tomorrow, when the first of more than 600,000 people pour into the event grounds. Paul Andrews is the stock show's president and chief executive. He says that one of the biggest headaches is parking.
Paul Andrews: If it takes them two hours to leave an event, that typically means they’re not coming back. If it takes them two hours to park their car at the event when they arrive, that’s also a bad sign. So those are things that really need to be corrected moving forward.
Reporter: Andrews says it can also take hours to get livestock in and out of the facility. And on top of all that it’s possible I-70 could get rerouted over the top of the stock show grounds. So, he says, a new site or a substantial investment in the current one is needed.
Andrews: Venue operators know very well that if they keep their venue and do not upgrade it consistently, they will wither away and die.
Reporter: He says in that sense it’s not unlike a sports team needing public help to build a stadium. But the stock show is a non-profit, and part of it’s mission is to educate about agriculture.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock: You know many of us grew up in Colorado as little kids knowing that at least once a year we were going to be put on buses and taken to the stock show.
Reporter: That’s Mayor Michael Hancock is decked out in a fancy western shirt and bolo tie awaiting the opening parade yesterday. He recently requested a list of proposed solutions from the stock show, which National Western delivered just before Christmas. Hancock says the city needs time to review the various plans.
Hancock: Do I feel like there’s an awful sense of urgency? Quite honestly, no. I feel like that we have to and can be deliberate and thoughtful, and we’ll figure it out. I think that the stock show is here for a long time, and we are going to make sure it has a fruitful life here in Denver.
Reporter: The stock show says its options range from moving the facility to another part of Denver, or Commerce City, or expanding its current site. The costs estimates also vary widely -- with some plans calling for up to $500 million dollars in investment. The problems with the facility have been know for at least a decade, but Denver City Council President Chris Nevitt admits the city procrastinated.
Chris Nevitt: I think we at the city are partially to blame.
Reporter: But they did take notice when last year the stock show talked for a time about moving near a proposed convention center in Aurora.
Nevitt: Whether or not it was a sincere desire to get out of Dodge or a cry for help, one way or another they got our attention. And I think everyone is now focused on the stock show.
Reporter: Nevitt agrees the stock show needs financial help. And taxpayers would need to pony up. But it could be a good deal. The stock show has an annual economic impact of more than $100 million, according to a 2010 CU Boulder study. Not to mention a cultural impact...
Reporter: More than a dozen young women have gathered at the famous Rockmount Ranch Wear in LoDo. They are rodeo queens and are dressed the part in full western gear and makeup. They’re making the rounds of downtown businesses before the parade. Rockmount owner Steven Weil is a huge supporter of the stock show and has no problem with spending city money to upgrade the facilities. But...
Weil: I very much want it to retain its special, down-home feel, which makes it what it is, and to turn it into a Disney-type thing is all wrong.
Reporter: This year organizers hope to break the visitor record of 726.000 people. So get there early if you want a parking spot.
[Photo: CPR/Megan Verlee]