Denver's National Western Center expansion could reach another milestone on Monday.
The City Council will vote on a $16.75 million settlement with Denver Rock Island Railroad to acquire and relocate nearly three miles of railway that cut through the project site and run along the South Platte River.
The payout would clear the way for the two lines of track to be moved to a central corridor, next to nearby Regional Transportation District and BNSF Railway lines, and allow for about six acres along the river to become open space, according to city officials.
The settlement, which has been in the works for years, is crucial to the $765 million effort to redevelop the campus near Interstate 70 and Brighton Boulevard, officials have said.
"This is critical path for us. This allows our project to continue and move forward," said Jenna Espinoza-Garcia, communications director for the Mayor's Office of the National Western Center.
The expansion, slated for completion in 2024, will double the campus in size to about 250 acres.
The revamped site is expected to bring year-round visitors to the complex, which has historically only drawn crowds on a few annual occasions, such as the National Western Stock Show and county fair, Espinoza-Garcia said.
Crews broke ground this year on the stockyard and stockyard event center, and demolition work has already started in preparation for the equestrian center buildout. Other project highlights will include a livestock center and educational facilities, run by Colorado State University, that will focus on animal health and water resources, she said.
When Denver voters OK'd a 2015 ballot measure extending a tourism tax to help pay for the overhaul, the city "heard loud and clear from the community" that creating open space along the river was a key part of the vision, said Brad Dodson, deputy director of the Mayor's Office of the National Western Center.
Now, the rail lines — along with a pair of wastewater pipes — hide the river from view on the campus and prevent visitors from accessing it, Dodson told the City Council's Finance and Governance Committee on Aug. 27.
The council has already approved an agreement to move the sewage lines, so relocating the railroad tracks is "the next step and the final step of removing infrastructure barriers to the river," he said.
Moving the tracks would also get rid of more than a dozen unprotected, at-grade rail crossings that propose a hazard to pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles on the campus, Dodson said.
If the agreement is approved, the Denver Rock Island Railroad will keep running on the campus until the new lines have been built, Assistant City Attorney Joshua Roberts told the committee. Once the operator shifts to the new tracks, the old ones would be demolished.