From where Rita Connerly sits, she can see a wealth of development opportunities east of Denver. And she happens to sit on not just the Adams County Economic Development Executive Committee as its chair, but she’s also chair-elect of the Aurora Economic Development Council Board of Directors.
These positions and others help Connerly, a director at Fairfield and Woods, to get a lay of the land in her real estate development practice. She also helps make connections between municipal governments and business players.
“It just gives me that opportunity to work not only with the developers but also the public officials to understand what their vision is for the community, and how we can bring the public-private community together to achieve those visions,” Connerly said. Being involved in community functions, she gets to “absorb what’s going on and who’s doing what.”
“I think that’s what I’m probably best at, is bringing those visions together,” she said.
For Connerly, 2018 was a year when some of those grandest visions finally did come to fruition. She’d acted as general counsel for the owner and developer of Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center, which opened its doors in Aurora in December. At 1,501 rooms, the Gaylord Rockies is Colorado’s largest hotel.
The $800 million project faced concerns that it would cannibalize the state’s hospitality industry by drawing conferences away from Denver, causing the surrounding businesses to lose revenue. Connerly said the developers were eventually able to show that many of those concerns were unfounded. With more 1 million room nights booked before its opening, 80 percent of the conferences the Gaylord was bringing in hadn’t been to Colorado before.
Still, over the course of the development, the Gaylord Rockies overcame a handful of lawsuits and a bill that would essentially scuttle the project, to name only the legal obstacles.
If the Gaylord Rockies Resort project were a marathon for Connerly and her client, Houston-based RIDA Development Corp, then December was when they crossed the finish line. Thinking back to the grand opening, she said she was “filled with pride” for her client, which invested so much capital into the hotel “knowing that it would be a game changer.” She also felt proud of her role on her client’s team, which she described as identifying all of the possible obstacles throughout the project and preparing for them, she added.