The Developing Story: Denver

Recently topping Forbes’s 2015 list of the Best Places for Businesses and Careers, Denver, Colo., is cementing its place as a major hub of the U.S. economy. The population of the Mile High City—a moniker coined because Denver’s official elevation is exactly one mile (5,280 feet) above sea level—has exploded in recent years, jumping more than 10 percent from 2010 to 2014. Unemployment was down to 3.2 percent as of September 2015, and a number of big-time employers, including Panasonic Enterprise Solutions and Lockheed Martin, are moving their headquarters to the area. The city’s Regional Transportation District is also in the process of expanding the city’s public transit system with the FasTracks program, which will add 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and 21,000 new parking spaces at light rail and bus stations.

Beyond its economic appeal, Denver offers a wealth of recreational attractions for both residents and visitors. According to Mike Cahill, CEO and founder of Hospitality Real Estate Counselors (which has an office in Denver), the city’s cultural offerings have grown with its population. “It’s a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. People would move here, which would attract cultural offerings like museums and performing arts centers. Then, those attractions bring in more people, and so the cycle continues,” he explains. Denver’s climate is also a big draw because it’s relatively mild throughout the year, attracting everyone from skiers to hikers, depending on the season. And, of course, there is the fact that marijuana is legal in Colorado, making it a destination for “weed tourists.” “While that’s not everyone’s thing, having that option is definitely appealing to some people,” Cahill says.

The combination of economic success and traveling opportunities has made Denver and the surrounding of areas a hotbed of hotel development. There are 51 hotels in the pipeline, including Marriott’s 1,500-room Gaylord Rockies Resort just south of the airport and the first Marriott–Starwood dual-branded property to start construction since their merger agreement.

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Straight Talk on Denver
Chris Anderson, senior vice president and chief revenue officer at Merrillville, Ind.-based hotel development/management company White Lodging, explains why the Denver market is a perfect location for the AC Hotel/Le Meridien, the first dual-branded Marriott–Starwood hotel to break ground since the companies announced their merger. The 495-room property is slated to open in summer 2017.

» “The AC Hotel/Le Meridien will be located right next to the Colorado Convention Center, which was just approved for an expansion. Couple this with the city’s growing rail system, and we’re going to see more traffic in this area in the years to come.”

» “We find that people who go to Denver on business during the week often stay the weekend to either do some outdoor activity like skiing or hiking or experience the local culture. The city just has built-in destination appeal.”

» “It is not a fad market. There’s a big base of corporate customers that will last through a market’s ebbs and flows of demand, making business more steady than in other cities.”