Loveland eyes resort complex near its growing airport: High-flying future | Subscriber-Only Content

Loveland, the lakeside town where the Big Thompson River winds out of the mountains, has always portrayed itself as a tourist gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

But new attractions arriving inside city limits may mark something on a grander scale – what could emerge as a regional tourism / commercial hub for northern Colorado.

Loveland City Council recently reviewed plans for one of those magnets: a 390-room resort and conference center for a 25-acre site that lies west across I-25 from Loveland’s Budweiser Events Center and The Ranch Events Complex.

The $ 300 million Rocky Mountain Grand Resort and Conference Center would circle an indoor waterpark themed as a mountain experience – larger than Colorado Springs’ Great Wolf Lodge, which opened in 2016. But smaller than the mega-scaled Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center that opened in 2018 near Denver International Airport.

DIA means a 45-minute drive for Loveland’s population of 82,200 in the best of traffic, an hour for 170,000 in Fort Collins. But the proposed resort lies right beside Loveland’s own Northern Colorado Regional Airport – “NoCo Regional” to the locals. It has potential to provide residents and others in Greeley, Windsor and Longmont with direct flights out of state, just as regional airports in Steamboat and Eagle do.

Startup airline Avelo recently hailed its 100th day serving Loveland with direct Boeing 737-800 service to Las Vegas. More than 6,000 passengers have been carried to date.

Avelo’s route map shows future connections via Las Vegas to Burbank in Southern California and Santa Rosa near San Francisco. It’s highlighting the new route with a $ 49 Vegas one-way fare offer to lure customers.

Grand Resort’s prospective developer Martin Lind and his family were aboard a recent flight to Vegas.

“All the seats were full,” he said.

“I think Avelo will unleash a huge, sleeping market,” said Lind, who is president / CEO of Windsor-based Water Valley Company. “The attachment area (at Loveland) is larger than Colorado Springs or the Aspen area. A million people live north of Denver. ”

Owner of Gaylord Rockies resort to reap $ 1.3 billion in tax incentives

Loveland city planners are designing a new passenger terminal. They have met with Federal Aviation Administration engineers to test novel technology for a “remote” control tower. Controllers will work at ground level, but get a virtual picture of arrivals and departures that simulates a 10-story tower without an actual tower structure.

NoCo Regional, call letters FNL, is jointly operated with Fort Collins.

Airport Director Jason Licon in Loveland is already discussing possibilities with larger carriers that are looking at those passenger stats, and is telling them about other omens that augur for rapid growth in the area.

“The stars are aligned,” said Loveland Director of Economic Development Kelly Jones, looking over numbers of bellwether projects that were pipe dreams a decade ago, now arriving in Loveland.

Northeast of the airport and the waterpark site, construction is underway on Amazon’s robotic fulfillment center that could span 3.87 million square feet and bring another thousand jobs to the area. Nearby, a 75,000-square-foot Veterans Administration “super clinic” is set to open this year near UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies.

Meanwhile, Lind’s Water Valley Company is building The Brands at the Ranch, a $ 300 million live-work-play campus that flanks the freeway around The Ranch Event Complex near the resort site.

Jones, with 23 years in economic development, wasn’t yet born when Loveland morphed from a sugar beet town into a nucleus for high-tech.

In 1960, Hewlett Packard’s Colorado-born co-founder David Packard nudged his Palo Alto, California, company to make its first out-of-state expansion to Loveland (population only 9,734), where it built a campus that became home to 4,000 employees .

By the early 2000s, HP ranked by some metrics as the world’s leading personal computer maker. But the company later went through a series of ruptures that saw the 177-acre site and its facilities sold to the city, at a time when Colorado and the nation were moving deeper into the Great Recession and unemployment.

The next few years were a low point for Loveland.

“No one trusted us when we told them that if they built spec buildings they would be filled by completion,” recalled Jones.

Now her team sees that happening continuously.

In 2011, the city sold the old HP campus to Cumberland & Western Resources, which resold it in 2020 for a reported $ 15.5 million to a Loveland-based consortium, now rebranding it as The Forge Campus. Jones expects its 811,000 square feet to lure a variety of tech firms and notes that the sale happened without any additional city incentives.

The tourism draw of the proposed resort / conference center is equally momentous, she said.

“This is a huge piece of primary employment,” Jones said. “Tourism is as pure as economic development gets. People arrive, they spend money, then they leave. ”

The city’s resort vision has been a seven-year effort involving a number of prospective developers. Jones recalls it was originally for a larger project that would have included a river-raft attraction. Planners had hoped to finance that in part with dollars from Colorado’s 2009 Regional Tourism Act, which helped fund Gaylord Rockies Resort. The RTA program lapsed as Colorado’s economy began coming back over the next decade.

Now the resort is back on track without state dollars, projected to have a 69,000-square-foot conference center and an 85,000-square-foot waterpark with 11 slides and a number of restaurants – one of them a rooftop. Jones says the project’s timetable will involve due diligence including final negotiations over incentives, but could open in 2025.

Lind says the seven-year process was painful, but taught his company and the city a great deal about tourism – yielding an entertainment corridor along I-25 where visitors will spend added time before venturing into the mountains.

“The resort will kickstart that entertainment corridor to life,” Lind said.

His Water Valley Company is deep into surrounding ventures, not just The Brands, but newer areas of Windsor east of the airport where his grandfather had once sharecropped 80 acres. The company later built thousands of homes around manmade lakes, including in the new RainDance National Resort, where builders roared through 2,800 homes in just four years.

Water Valley owns the Colorado Eagles, the minor league hockey team based at The Ranch Events Complex, and just opened Discovery Air, a fixed-base operator private jet center at NoCo Regional.

Meanwhile, Jones says pricing of Loveland’s available resources almost guarantees prominence for the city as northern Colorado continues to develop.

“Fort Collins is pricing out. Denver is pricing out, ”Jones said. “It’s our time.”

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