Meet the city-guy-turned-cattle-rancher driving the $1 billion effort to preserve the National Western Center’s roots

The billion-dollar makeover is underway but how will it attract farmers, ranchers and urban dwellers from all over Colorado? Leave that to city-guy-turned-rural rancher Brad Buchanan.


Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun

Apr 15, 2019


At age 47, long-time Denver architect Brad Buchanan found himself in the uncomfortable position of helping a mama cow give birth.


“I had my iPhone propped up in the crook of my shoulder the first time I pulled a calf at four in the morning,” said Buchanan, who, despite his day job in the city, had moved 33 miles east from a swanky Park Hill neighborhood to rural Strasburg, where he’d recently acquired 22 cows and a ranch from Charles Robbins. Robbins was talking him through the delivery: “OK, what do you feel first, a nose or a tail? A nose? OK good, that’s what’s supposed to come out first.’”


Eleven years and some 1,250 calves later, Buchanan may be the perfect city-guy-turned-cattle-rancher to shape the future of the National Western Center, the new name for the National Western Complex. The $1 billion transformation will turn about 250 acres in North Denver into an agricultural mecca for those who supply food or want to know where their food comes from. It could open as early as 2022.  The project is a nod to Colorado’s cowboy past and a return to when Denver was a center of agricultural activity.


But it was also the ultimate peace offering to the National Western Stock Show, which faced unaffordable upkeep on the century-old site and considered hitting the road for Aurora.


“Denver and the National Western Stock Show kind of grew up together. It didn’t feel right for the Stock Show to leave for reasons we felt were solvable and could be fixed,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who valued Stock Show field trips as a kid. “Watching the rodeo with the bucking horses, we didn’t see that in the inner city. It broadened our horizons.”


The new development has many partners, including Colorado State University and National Western Stock Show. But it’s Buchanan who is tasked with figuring out how to create a collaborative arena that connects residents in the surrounding Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods with farmers from the Western Slope and Eastern Plains, and make links between scientists and professors and tech entrepreneurs, chefs and consumers with food producers.


“This is about connecting the urban and rural places,” said Buchanan, CEO of the National Western Center Authority, a newly created non-profit that just took over managing events for the community that are unrelated to the Stock Show.  “…They both have to succeed in order for both of them to succeed. And the only way you do that is for them to understand each other, and to appreciate each other, and to respect each other, and to admire each other and to be curious about each other. And they’re not right now.”


Stock Show history inspires renovation ...


Coming together ...


Home on the ranch ...


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