Two years ago, the Colorado Meetings + Events Best of 2017 readers’ choice awards was held at The Hangar at Stanley, a brand new venue in Stanley Marketplace, a cool new market hall that brought life back to the former Stanley Aviation factory after it sat empty for many years. It was a signal that things big things were happening in Aurora to host a broader and larger range of meetings and events and to up the ante for leisure guests as well.
The community’s destination marketing organization, Visit Aurora, had launched and Hyatt Regency Aurora/Denver Conference Center had opened with 36,000 square feet of meeting and event space and 229 guest rooms. Construction was ramping up on the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, and many people wondered exactly what was going on as the huge structure started to take shape along the drive to Denver International Airport. What was happening is a marquee property for Marriott International in the form of the fifth Gaylord Hotels resort in the nation and one of the largest hospitality industry projects to break ground in the United States since 2016.
Gaylord Rockies opened its doors on Dec. 18, 2018 and began welcoming groups in January. It’s only appropriate that Aurora Economic Development Council hosted the first large event held at the property on Jan. 17, 2019. A-List was a sold-out event and annually brings together more than 1,000 business, civic and political leaders to celebrate the economic successes of the community and features luminary speakers like this year’s Steve Wozniak, Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist. For many years, there had been a desire for a convention center in Aurora that could be a magnet for out-of-state tourists and business conferences. In 2010, Aurora Economic Development Council and the City of Aurora started working with Gaylord to realize this vision and a fairly long and bumpy path followed.
Everyone is just a little bit curious about what a Colorado property with 1,501 rooms (including 114 suites), 486,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, eight food and beverage outlets, 26 fireplaces, a 17-room spa and 22,000 square feet of aquatic experiences looks and feels like. After doing a hard-hat tour in October, I was excited to be part of a small group of journalists from around the country to stay at and experience the property in mid-January and take part in several amazing Aurora and Denver activities.
A hyper-local Colorado spirit is at the heart of the property. One of the many local food and beverage partnerships is Dry Dock Brewing Co., an Aurora brewery that is producing two exclusive Gaylord Rockies beers. The design and décor resembles the Colorado outdoors, such as boulders molded after iconic attractions and a restaurant with a log cabin-esque ambiance. Elevators on the lower level are designed to look like old mine
shafts, while guest rooms feature aspen tree-inspired carpets, lumberjack plaid on pillows, and hiking and camping maps in closets. The convention center has Colorado details sprinkled throughout, including elements that represent ski tracks, snowdrifts and snowflakes.
During a day of adventuring around Aurora, we had a delicious breakfast served from the Comida food truck (don’t miss their locations at Stanley Marketplace and The Source in Denver) at Pelican Bay at Cherry Creek. Located in Cherry Creek State Park, Pelican Bay at Cherry Creek features a marina, Lake House and nautical-themed pub. During fair weather, boats, jet skis, canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards can be rented at the marina.
The back patio with sand and water as a backdrop was the perfect place for a birds of prey experience with an eagle, owl, falcon and hawk presented by the nonprofit HawkQuest. This memorable activity is available to groups. Kin Quitugua, a master falconer and long time environmental educator, founded HawkQuest in 1986. Quitugua has dedicated himself and HawkQuest to educating the public about the role raptors play in our ecology.
The next stop was Southlands, an outdoor lifestyle mall in southeast Aurora that functions like a modern main street for the community. There are lots of opportunities for groups here like a dine-in AMC multiplex cinema, restaurant/bar options like the spacious Bar Louie, quaint Wine Experience Café & World Cellar, an ice skating rink for winter, and events like a farmers’ market and outdoor concerts and movies during the summer. One of the newest additions is Bent Barley Brewing Company, which is the brainchild of Mark Job and Paul Dampier, two friends and coworkers who took their passion for brewing beer at home and enjoying great beers with friends and made it their livelihood. It was fun to get a behind-the-scenes tour, taste the beer and hear the stories behind the business and the brews.
We ended the day at Stanley Marketplace, beginning at Stanley Beer Garden, where you pour your own beer, wine, hard cider or cocktail from two large rows of stainless steel dispensers. There are more than 50 locally owned businesses in the market, ranging from eateries, breweries and a wine tap room to boutique shops, salons, workout facilities and other services businesses to pass the time. However, our focus was on Create Cooking School, where we split up into groups, learned how to make several dishes with a talented chef and dined together on the results. It was a great team-building activity and delicious!
It was a fun to experience first hand what groups are discovering about Aurora. Check it for yourself!