Denver's economic boom cycles are legendary, and 2018 is no exception. In the center of the city, Lower Downtown (better known as LoDo) has experienced signifi cant infi ll development that was generations in the making. To the southeast, Cherry Creek is witnessing a parallel ascension from ritzy shopping mecca to posh mixed-use neighborhood. And closer to Denver International Airport (DIA) in Denver’s largest suburb and Colorado’s third largest city, Aurora is on the verge of something big: opening the state’s largest convention hotel.
It all adds up to more choices than ever for planners considering metro Denver as a meetings and events destination.
The historic heart of LoDo, Denver Union Station’s grand reopening in 2014 catalyzed construction in the surrounding blocks. The area quickly became one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the West.
Union Station is a one-stop shop for meetings and events, with a host of restaurants and event spaces as well as The Crawford Hotel. The depot’s lower level has 4,300 square feet of event space and can accommodate groups of 60, and The Crawford has 112 guest rooms.
Shari Pohlman, executive assistant at Oracle Data Cloud in Broomfield, organized a twoday executive leadership meeting at Union Station for 21 people in April 2018. “I absolutely love the vibe Union Station has,” she says. “There’s something for everyone to enjoy.”
Attendees loved their hotel rooms, and the staff was “absolutely wonderful” during the event, she says. “The meeting space is in the lower level of the building, and they did a great job making it feel special.”
She adds, “LoDo is a good fit as it’s close to DIA for those traveling in from out of town for our meetings and events and offers a great eclectic choice of restaurants, bars, and activities all within walking distance.” Pohlman says, “It’s at the center of everything.”
The renovation of Union Station helped spur the construction of numerous hotels totaling nearly 1,000 new rooms in LoDo in the last four years. On the nearby Dairy Block, The Maven opened in spring 2017, with 2,100 square feet of meeting space that opens onto an event-friendly alley. The old-meets-new character of the place is underpinned by an artisan attitude.
Alex Nelson, field service manager with Denver-based Ardent Mills, planned the flourmilling company’s annual Quality Leadership Conference at The Maven in 2018 with about 60 people in attendance.
“We checked out a few hotels in the downtown Denver area, and The Maven seemed to fit our event best,” says Nelson. “We had folks ride the train downtown from the airport, and all our activities were within 5 to 10 minutes walking from the hotel. It was very convenient, and the accommodations were top-notch.”
Attendees gave the hotel rooms, meeting room, food and staff high marks. “We would definitely go back to have another event at this hotel,” says Nelson. “We had a lot of lastminute requests, and the hotel staff handled them with a smile.”
Opened in August 2017, the 200-room Kimpton Hotel Born manages to meld alpine and urban styles into a satisfying whole. The hotel has about 14,000 square feet of flexible event space with a maximum capacity serving groups of up to 150.
Alyssa Monette, administrative assistant to the president of the Land Title Guarantee Company in Denver, planned a two-day event for about a dozen members of the executive team at Hotel Born, and she’s already planning more events there.
“They used the Nordic Ballroom,” says Monette. “It overlooks Union Station with big, open windows and lots of natural light—just a really cool space.”
The group overnighted at the hotel and had a wide selection of places to eat and drink after meetings. “It just got phenomenal reviews,” says Monette. “A few of them walked over to Union Station and had drinks at the Terminal Bar. They didn’t feel stuck to one space.”
It’s an annual event for the company, and Monette tends to looks for a new venue every year. “There’s no shortage of them in Denver,” she confirms.
In previous years, Monette organized events at Halcyon, the first new hotel to open in Cherry Creek in a decade when it was unveiled in 2016. “It’s one of my favorite hotels in Denver,” she says. “You can’t really beat the rooftop pool and bar.”
With 154 guest rooms, more than 6,000 square feet of meeting space and a gear garage for guests, Halcyon was a glimpse of what was to come with the launching of two more hotels in the area. Moxy Denver Cherry Creek by Marriott opened in November 2017 and features 1,750 square feet of meeting space, Moxy can handle events with up to about 70 attendees.
Jaci Tylicki, founder of Upcycle Occasions, planned the Moxy’s grand opening in March 2018. “We had 350 people throughout the night,” she says. “It was a huge success.” The celebration included shot-skis, an oxygen bar, games and a DJ.
“It’s not like other hotels,” says Tylicki. “You check in, and it’s also a bar. It’s a real fun location and a modern venue.”
Tylicki likes Cherry Creek in general for events because she says it is more car-friendly and less hectic than downtown Denver. “Downtown is more of a party,” she says. “Cherry Creek offers fine dining, it’s easy to walk around, and it’s a more refined crowd. It has a lot of benefits.”
Because of that, slick new venues keep coming to Cherry Creek. Opened this summer, The Jacquard Hotel & Rooftop is the latest hotel to debut in the neighborhood, features 6,900 square feet of meeting space, 201 rooms, and a rooftop pool and bar.
But the pioneer in these parts is undoubtedly JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek, with 9,400 square feet of event space that can accommodate groups of about 200 or fewer attendees. The property has set the bar for Cherry Creek event venues since it opened in 2004.
Catlin Steen, meeting and event specialist at medical-device manufacturer Boston Scientific, has planned about 10 events for the company’s sales team at this JW Marriott since 2015. Most have 10 to 20 attendees from all over the country, but a December 2016 event drew more than 100.
“The property is perfect for hosting small meetings and large meetings,” she says. “It’s a posh neighborhood. It’s perfect for our sales team.”
The in-house food and beverage can handle special requests, says Steen, and the proximity to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center and restaurants are a big plus. “Once you get to that property, you don’t need to get back in a car,” she says.
“A lot of people are surprised with what they find here,” shares Randi Morritt, director of communications for Visit Aurora.
The old and new pitch is “Aurora is the Gateway to the Rockies,” as a sign that arched over East Colfax Avenue once declared. “We truly are the base camp,” confirms Morritt. “You can get to Denver in 20 minutes, you can get to the mountains, you can go to Colorado Springs, you can go to Boulder. Aurora can be your first or last stop.”
Morritt points to “hidden gems” like Ethiopian restaurants and Korean barbecues, as well as several craft breweries, municipal and state parks, and the white sand beach at Aurora Reservoir.
“A lot of people don’t realize you can go to a white sand beach in Colorado,” she says.
Competing with Denver means differentiation is key. She says Visit Aurora’s message to groups is proximity to DIA, affordability, and a smaller convention and visitors bureau.
As far as meeting spaces go, Stanley Marketplace is a factory reinvented as a multitenant space and a unique newer venue with a “hyperlocal” approach. However, the late 2018 opening of Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center is the biggest news for the meeting industry in Aurora’s history. With more than 485,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, Gaylord Rockies will more than double the total meeting space in Aurora and the property’s 1,501 rooms will make it Colorado’s largest hotel.
Annette Smith, manager of special events at CableLabs, the Louisville-based R&D nonprofit for the cable industry, regularly organizes events for as many as 1,000 people. Two key criteria for venues are “size and proximity to the airport,” she says.
Gaylord Rockies “is a huge game changer, as was the Hyatt Regency when it was built,” says Smith. “It ups the ante.” Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center, with 249 guest rooms and suites and more than 36,000 square feet of meeting and event space, opened in 2016.
Smith has noticed that the mind-set in Aurora is changing. “They’re seeing themselves as a business destination,” she says. “It’s how they’re choosing to promote themselves.” The end result? “There’s a lot of upside.”
With new event venues opening left and right in and around Denver, the metro area is maturing as a destination for meetings of all sizes. With LoDo’s infill coming to a conclusion and as Gaylord Rockies launches in Aurora, it’s high time for planners to revisit their options for mile-high meetings.