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NATIONAL WESTERN AT A CROSSROADS
The National Western Complex and the National Western Stock Show event are at a crossroads. Long a mainstay
of Colorado’s booming livestock industry, the 109-year-old site is antiquated at best, and the facilities and their
supporting infrastructure have been in decline for many years. While modest improvements have been made in
the past 25 years, many of the structures are obsolete and date back 50 years or more. Entire industries have
come and gone during this time; the surrounding communities have also grown and changed. What remains
today is an incongruous patchwork of mixed uses, physical barriers such as rail lines, and outdated infrastructure.
This gradual deterioration has led to an overall condition of disinvestment at the complex.
The National Western
no longer meets the needs of modern-day tourists and Colorado’s $41 billion agricultural industry.
Visitor polls taken in 2013 reveal a dire situation. The National Western
Stock Show’s complex was rated as “worst in class” for exhibitor
experience when compared with its national competitors.
This story is not unique. The National Western Stock Show was founded on the popularity and success of the
International Livestock Exposition in Chicago. From its earliest roots in the 1860s, the Chicago stock show was
the largest of its kind in the world. It, too, ran successfully for over 100 years. However, the site fell into serious
decline by the 1960s. When planning efforts for the modernization of the facilities failed, the decline hastened.
By 1971, its stockyards were vacant; by 1975 the site had been abandoned. Chicago’s International Livestock
Exposition show was ultimately re-branded and moved to Louisville, KY, where it exists to this day. Old timers
are still scratching their heads—no one dreamed something like this could happen.
While National Western’s complex has slowly declined physically, National Western’s top competitors—Louisville,
Fort Worth and Oklahoma City—have been investing in new facilities and diversifying their programming to keep
their shows relevant and vibrant.
The writing is on the wall: Without investment, the Super Bowl of Stock Shows
will not long remain a top tourist destination and economic engine for Colorado
and the Rocky Mountain West. The National Western’s rich 109-year history,
with its 222 events per year, over 1.3 million visitors, and annual economic
impact of $115 million, hangs in the balance.
To survive, the National Western concept must be re-invented from the ground up. The current complex, grid-
locked and only sporadically active during the year, must be transformed into a modern complex with year-round
tourism and agribusiness potential, fully connected to the local community, with new partners and programming
that will support a collaborative new mission for the next century.
Colorado State University, The Contribution of Agriculture to Colorado’s Economy: An Executive Summary. January 2012
RTA Section 14 – Economic Analysis, p. 51
The new Equestrian and Livestock Center plazas
provide ample opportunities for outdoor events,
exhibits, and displays, as well as expanded gathering
space for the Stockyards/Events Pavilion.
The Stockyards/Events Pavilion will have 800 pens
during the Stock Show that can be removed and
used as flexible event space throughout the
rest of the year.