OPINION: What the Gaylord Resort Has in Store

August 2 2013, 10:50 AM

The will-they-or-won’t-they drama around the proposed Gaylord project in Aurora reached a peak last week. At issue is whether the 1,500-room hotel and conference center will siphon off business from downtown Denver, including its hotels, restaurants, and other attractions.

The answer: Of course it will. You don’t build 1,500 rooms right near the airport so they can sit empty. And those rooms mean that, at any given time, there will be somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000 people who’ll choose to stay on that wind-swept plain rather than hoof it downtown or up to the mountains.

Why can we count on that? Because Gaylord resorts are specifically designed to create captive audiences. In April 2012, I spent three days in Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland while covering a story. The Nashville part of that venture was purely incidental. I went from the airport to the resort and back again, primarily because Gaylord had constructed the property to make it almost impossible to leave.

Whether this is a plus or a minus is a matter of personal preference. The Opryland isn’t just a resort and convention center; it’s an ecosystem of hotel rooms, restaurants, nightclubs, shops, and promenades, all linked together by thickly landscaped paths and streams that end up feeling more tropical than Southern. And the whole climate-controlled behemoth sits under a giant dome of paned glass, so you end up feeling like you’re walking around inside one of God’s snow globes.

Again, to each his own. Maybe eating a variety of not terribly interesting food that is terribly overpriced appeals to some, but I’d rather have been in downtown Nashville sampling from its rich musical and culinary attractions. Unfortunately, the hotel’s shuttle service for that 10-minute drive cost $20. (Cabs were even worse.) The one time we did leave the walled compound for an evening event unfolded like a very amicable prison break.

You know what it costs to get from DIA to downtown; all those Denver proprietors who worry this resort will sap their business are absolutely right to be concerned. Because why would Joe Traveler and his 1,000 to 4,000 cohorts spend $20, or $50, or $75 to ride to LoDo for a meal when he can get something decent under the dome? Sure, he’ll be paying airport prices for it, but going all the way to Denver is just such a hassle.

Based on Gaylord’s track record, we can assume its Aurora complex will be a clean, well-run, amenity-laden biosphere that closely mimics the Rocky mountain landscape—the very landscape that sits just beyond all those hermetically sealed panes. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t build it, or that this project isn’t a welcome test for Denver metro’s regional cooperation skills. But we should all be crystal clear about exactly what we’re getting.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

—Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.