by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 30, 2016

Cheryl-Anne SturkenIt won't open its doors for another two years, but already the 1,507-room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center is off to a great start. The megahotel has generated so much buzz among meeting planners that it has presold more than 180,000 group room nights. The $800 million project in Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city and just south of Denver International Airport, will feature more than 485,000 square feet of meeting and event space, eight dining outlets, and extensive recreational and entertainment facilities.

rendering of the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center"We were expecting a high demand, and we certainly have not been disappointed about the lead volume we have booked so far," Michael Kofsky, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, told me when we spoke earlier this week. Kofsky and his team of 10 operate out of a sales office adjacent to the construction site. "Our numbers indicate that 30 percent of customers are new to the Gaylord brand," he noted. "But what’s really interesting is that 88 percent have never met in Colorado before. These are groups that have outgrown large hotels but aren't going into a convention center."

Such is the case with Orlando-baed GAMA International, which has signed a contract for more than 5,100 room nights at the property for its 2024 Annual Leadership and Management Program. The program, which will bring 3,000-plus attendees to Colorado for the first time, is estimated to generate $1.5 million in room revenue for the hotel. So far, said Kofsky, the majority of groups his team has been booking are greater than 600 rooms per night. "But, as we get closer to opening date and are not booking as far out, we will layer in smaller groups," he added.

rendering of the atrium at the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention CenterWhen completed in late 2018, the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, Gaylord's fifth property, will be the largest hotel in the state of Colorado. It faced heavy opposition during the planning phase, with opponents arguing that the $81.4 million in development incentives awarded to Aurora under the state’s Regional Tourism Act in May 2012, combined with even larger public subsidies from Aurora, provided an unfair financial advantage that would hurt existing hotels.

Kofsky said his office has been working closely with VisitAurora, the tourism marketing arm of the city, which has a hotel inventory of 4,300, as well as VisitDenver. Both destinations, he said, will be key to handling overflow rooms for events the hotel books. "I can’t tell you what our sales goal is, but it's an aggressive one," Kofsky asserted. "And, right now, if we keep going the way we are going, we are on course to meet it."

Click here to see a live webcam at the construction site.