“Not to See Elitch’s is Not to See Denver…” and for more than a century Elitch Gardens has been one of the most popular entertainment destinations in Colorado. A cultural touchstone since it was opened in 1890 by John and Mary Elitch, the original park at 38th and Tennyson in northwest Denver was home to the gardens, the historic Elitch Theatre at the Gardens (the first woman owned theatre and longest standing summer stock theatre in the United States from 1897 – 1987), the famous Trocadero Ballroom (a regular stop and broadcasting venue for touring big bands), and countless rides and roller coasters.
But with no room for expansion at the original site, the owners sought a new larger location. In the early 1990s the City of Denver acquired Colorado & Southern’s Rice Yards to help facilitate the move, keep Elitch’s in Denver, and fulfill the City’s vision for a redeveloped Central Platte River Valley (CPV). The vision, first laid out by Mayor Tom Currigan’s In Response to a Flood following the "Flood of the Century" in 1965, called for a mix of commercial, civic and recreational uses, with a focus on parks, sports and entertainment venues, and a campus for higher education. A decade later in March of 1977, Mayor McNichols and the City Council adopted a comprehensive plan for the Central Platte Valley. The plan paved the way for Mayor Currigan’s blueprint to become a reality, but it would take decades of effort to make it happen.
Like much of the CPV, the new Elitch’s site was environmentally contaminated, having been declared a Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency, and lacked public infrastructure. To help bring about the desired redevelopment of the site, DURA created the Rice Yards Urban Renewal Area and issued $10.9 million in TIF bonds to help finance environmental remediation and other site-wide improvements.
The $95 million development of the new Elitch’s site was undertaken 1994, and the new park opened in May 1995. Elitch’s relocated 15 of its 20 biggest rides to the new location and immediately saw a more than 25% increase in annual attendance to over 1 million visitors a year. Through the combined efforts of the City, the developer, and DURA, a key goal of the City’s plan for revitalizing the CPV was achieved and today Elitch Gardens is one of the last center city amusement parks left in the country.
DURA fully repaid the Elitch’s TIF bonds in 2008 – nine years ahead of schedule and saving more than $5 million in scheduled debt service expenses. With the DURA obligations retired, taxes generated by Elitch’s now flow to the original taxing entities (E.g., the City and County of Denver, Denver Public Schools). In 2009, Elitch Gardens generated more than $1.5 million in tax revenue, a significant increase from the less than $50,000 generated by the formerly blighted site in the early 1990s.
Relocation of the 100-year old Elitch Gardens Amusement Park to a new 68-acre site along the Platte River
New Elitch Gardens, Ltd.
CNL Lifestyle Properties, operated by PARC Management
Total Project Cost:
$10.9 million in TIF Bonds
Tax Increment Source:
Sales and Property Taxes
Obligations fully repaid May 2008