Why a Colorado arena gets the wrecking ball after just 17 years

Why a Colorado arena gets the wrecking ball after just 17 years

The date was Nov. 9, 2006. The venue was the Broomfield Event Center. The place was packed.

Then-Mayor Karen Stuart took the stage with a music legend and christened the $45 million, 6,500-seat venue — a gleaming arena built to anchor the nascent Arista development, the Colorado community’s ambitious foray into urban living.

“I stood on stage with Bonnie Raitt and introduced her as the first act,” said Stuart, who along with her Broomfield City Council colleagues decided to give the guitarist-singer, who had turned 57 the day before, an added ego boost for her birthday: “We told her we built it for her.”

Little could the mayor have imagined that not even 17 years later, the Broomfield Event Center — later renamed the 1stBank Center — would hold its final event. After All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite and Rampage show on Sept. 27, the city-owned venue went dark.

The 150,000-square-foot building, with curvaceous rooflines accented in red, is destined for the wrecking ball as early as June. Its demise has many causes, from a taxing district plan that failed to live up to expectations to competition from both established and newer concert venues along the Front Range.

While past city officials like Stuart defend the decision to build the event center, the city took a risk — one that didn’t fully pay off.

“When we had concerts, it was a nice injection of business,” said Brian Yauk, owner of Arista Wine & Spirits down the street. “But it never lived up to its potential.”

As shovels first moved dirt on the 10-acre site in 2005, that potential was envisioned as 180 to 190 events annually. The 1stBank Center never came close.

Plenty of big-name acts came through — Radiohead, Billy Strings, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Katy Perry, among them — but there just weren’t enough. The venue also has hosted graduations, political events and big-scale performances.

In concerts alone, the venue reached its peak in 2016, with 33 shows. The numbers declined steadily in subsequent years until the COVID-19 pandemic cut the legs out from under the operation, limiting concerts to a total of just 11 total between 2020 and 2021.

Not that there wasn’t trouble with the 1stBank Center long before the coronavirus arrived. In the early days, it had a short-lived incarnation as the home of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Rage, a minor-league hockey team, and the Colorado 14ers, an NBA development league basketball team that split for Texas in 2009.

A new operator that came onboard that year, a brief and forgettable name change to the Odeum and yet another moniker makeover in 2010 — adopting the bank’s name — couldn’t fix the underlying problem.

Fast-forward to today: Broomfield’s urban renewal authority carries more than $30 million in debt on the venue it owns, a bill it won’t pay off until 2029 — five years after the 1stBank Center is pulverized into dust and debris. New development is likely to fill the void.

“It never performed,” Broomfield City Manager Jennifer Hoffman said. “It never delivered from the beginning.”

Brian Yauk, owner of Arista Wine & Spirits, in front of a mural by artist Evan Iuzzolino that shows the 1stBank Center and a collection of Denver landmarks at the liquor store in Broomfield on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post) 

“One thing after another” in early years

The reasons for the 1stBank Center’s demise run the gamut and depend on who’s doing the talking.

Early on, he pullout of the Rage and the 14ers in the first couple of years started the turmoil. Then the Great Recession hit, and the venue’s operator wanted out.

“It was one thing after another,” said Stuart, who said Broomfield did its due diligence on feasibility and financing in the years leading up to the venue’s opening.

Broomfield Sports and Entertainment, the original operator, turned over control of the center to Peak Entertainment, a joint venture of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and AEG Live Rocky Mountains, in 2009. Tim Wiens and John Frew, who were heavily involved in the development of Arista and headed Broomfield Sports and Entertainment, declined to speak to The Denver Post about the early years for this story.

Later, the Regional Transportation District’s promised commuter rail line between Denver and Boulder — which potentially could have increased access by transit — never materialized in the corridor, Stuart said.

The All Elite Wrestling show was the last event to be held at the 1stBank Center, Sept. 27, 2023. (Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera) 

The mix of events also changed. In more recent years, electronic dance music, or EDM, shows became more prevalent at the 1stBank Center, along with wrestling and mixed martial arts events.

The city said those crowds were rowdier, requiring a “higher reliance on the Broomfield Police Department,” with 738 medical calls at the center from 2016 to 2023. Unwelcome behavior at those shows included indecent exposure, drug use and “a number of neighborhood noise disturbance complaints,” according to a city memo.

“The concertgoers will go to the bathroom in our Dumpster area,” McKenna Martindale, who has lived in Arista for nearly two years, told The Post. “I love having the shows here, but it just seems problematic with the policing.”

The greatest contributor to the 1stBank Center’s tepid bookings, many argue, is old-fashioned competition.

The metro area has many entertainment venues, from Ball Arena in Denver for big acts and big-time sports to The Fillmore and other Colfax Avenue spots for smaller draws and more up-and-coming acts. In Loveland, Blue Arena (formerly Budweiser Events Center) rivals the 1stBank Center in size (6,800 seats), while the nearly 4,000-person capacity Mission Ballroom, which opened in 2019 in Denver’s River North Art District, has hipster cred among music aficionados.

“Mission is offering a more intimate experience designed especially for music, while the 1stBank Center is larger and was designed to house a wider range of events,” Broomfield Councilman Todd Cohen said. “The center simply wasn’t in a position to compete in this location and this current market, and it was already behind.”

LEFT: Usher performs at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Dec. 2, 2014. RIGHT: Dead & Company perform at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Nov. 24, 2015. (Photos by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post) 

“No reason to believe” center would reach occupancy goals

The city also faced $5 million to $6 million in deferred maintenance on the center in the next five years, including the need for a new roof and updated heating and cooling systems.

“It never came close to its occupancy goals and there was no reason to believe that would change, even with more investment,” Cohen said.

Peak Entertainment, Stuart said, has “competing venues” to book, which worked against the 1stBank Center. The Post reached out to several officials with both Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and AEG and was ultimately referred back to the city of Broomfield for comment.

Then there’s the city’s own involvement with the 1stBank Center — a dynamic Hoffman, the city manager, reflects on often. The facility costs approximately $1.2 million to operate per year.

“You build it, you owe more than the building is worth,” she said, and “then you have three years of the worst recession since Black Tuesday (in 1929). There are many excellent lessons learned for us not to have a repeat performance.”

Fairview High School students throw up their caps at the end of the 2013 Fairview High School Graduation at the 1STBank Center in Broomfield on May 19, 2013. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera) 

The Broomfield Urban Renewal Authority, which financed the project through the issuance of $60 million in bonds in 2005, found itself in trouble early when the surrounding Arista development got off to a slow start. Taxes generated there were to pay off the debt on the venue, but according to a city memo obtained by The Post, the surrounding development “did not materialize at the anticipated pace, thus the anticipated tax revenue was not realized (until 2020).”

That prompted a decade-long plan — starting in 2009 — to take nearly $36 million from six other urban renewal areas in Broomfield as an advance for payments on the center.

The fallout from all of those financial gymnastics: The city still owes $34 million in outstanding debt on the 1stBank Center.

After making a final $10 million balloon payment in 2029, the Broomfield Urban Renewal Authority will have spent a total of $135 million on the project.

“A municipality is not a developer, it’s not a concert promoter and it’s not a sports team promoter,” Hoffman said. “You need to do all these things well. Broomfield was heavily reliant on a lot of external forces to be successful.”

A few patients receive their COVID-19 vaccinations at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on May 20, 2021. (Timothy Hurst/Daily Camera) 

“We will find a better match” for site, councilman predicts

While the 1stBank Center’s impending demise vexes Charles Ozaki, he said it’s not as bleak as some might think. He served as Broomfield’s former city manager for eight years and as deputy city manager for another 29 years.

“In order for Arista to get developed, it needed to have infrastructure,” said Ozaki, who retired in 2019. “1stBank Center acted as one of the anchors for the development. I see it as filling a need when it was built — built as part of a master plan.”

Arista, considered two-thirds complete, has 1,700 housing units with another 387 under construction. It also boasts 750,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Ozaki said while the 1stBank Center soon would be gone, he cherished memories from the place — a 2011 Paul Simon concert, for one.

“Hopefully, something great will replace it,” he said.

A pedestrian walks past the closed 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post) 

For now, the doors and ticket windows are boarded up. The jumbo electronic display — designed to lure drivers passing on U.S. 36 to take in a show — is powered off. The venue’s website, which once trumpeted the center as the “premiere mid-sized event venue in the Denver area,” now redirects to 1stBank’s own website.

The city of Broomfield expects demolition to cost about $2 million. Last month, its City Council approved a resolution to allow its urban renewal authority to begin searching for a contractor to take the building down later this spring or summer.

The event center land that will eventually be redeveloped is broken into two parcels: a 10.2-acre lot where the venue is located and 10.6 acres that was used for overflow parking. Future uses for the property could include mixed-use commercial, office, restaurants, hotels — and to the dismay of some, more residential.

Stephanie Delaney, who was walking her dog on a recent frigid morning, has lived in Arista for about a year. More apartments, she said, “would be a bummer.”

“If they did more restaurants, I think that would be a lot better,” she said.

Restaurant owner Kayla Leavitt, already missing the loss of venue traffic she used to get at the Proto’s Pizza she runs, is even more blunt about the prospect of more housing: “Anything but apartments,” she said.

Cohen, the Broomfield councilman, is bullish on what will come next to Arista, calling the 1stBank Center site “a highly visible spot right on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder.” The recent pickup in construction activity in the neighborhood after years of delay tells him the area has turned a corner.

“We will find a better match,” he said.