Since 2008, we’ve had a big dream in the Colorado State University system. We dreamed of creating a unique campus that does not award degrees but instead opens its doors and invites the community to come in and explore learning about food, water, human and animal health.
And now, for the next two weeks, we will officially open the doors to our new campus in Denver: CSU Spur. What started as a file “What if…?” In 2008 The Conversation became a three-building campus that made hands-on learning and inspiration free for all.
CSU’s entire campus at the National Western Center will open during 2022, but the opening of our first building, Vida, in January is a milestone. And I remember all the steps and conversations that led up to this point, and the people who brought us here.
One of the most pivotal figures in my mind is Jerry McMorris, who was then president of the Western National Stock Exchange. Jerry is remembered as the man who brought Major League Baseball to Denver. Before their first-ever team game, he brought them together and told them the sky was the limit – the dream was there to chase it.
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And years later, when we sat down at the table with former state senator Pat Grant, then CEO of National Western, to talk about how to keep the Stock Fair in Denver, Jerry came up with the same spirit—a desire to realize a big dream not just about the National Western, but about the future of the National Western. The city and community that Stock Show calls home.
We were also fortunate to have a new then-mayor in Michael Hancock who listened to the blue ribbon board he had appointed, and was convinced that the National Western Stock Fair should stay in Denver. Denver voters overwhelmingly voted in 2015 to fund Phases 1 and 2 of a long-term master plan in partnership with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who saw value in the West National Center and then ran legislation that provided the state with funding to make the CSU part possible.
The CSU Board of Governors had the courage and foresight to take on the project and nurture the partnerships that made it happen. Their leadership and long-term vision will benefit Colorado for generations to come.
Of course, turning a dream into a reality requires people who can come up with a plan and implement it. For the CSU system, this was Amy Parsons, Executive Vice-Chancellor of the CSU System, who guided the CSU project from the start through her CSU Spur brand, before taking over as CEO in the private sector. She handed the torch to Assistant Vice Chancellor Jocelyn Heitl and Tiana Kennedy, who kept all the pieces in place to finish the project on time.
Tom Vilsack, now Secretary of Agriculture, has helped bring together thought leaders from across the country to consider what might be possible in a place like Spur — which has led to programs like the Water in the West Symposium and the partnership of organizations like Together We Grow and the North American Agricultural Consulting Network, which It will be based in CSU Spur. She joined forces with Tom Kristi Vilsack and Cathay Rennells, who have met with educators and district leaders across Colorado to create a foundation for the programming we will deliver on campus and statewide.
Many people have come and gone from the project over the past 13 years, but the strong partnership between Dumb Friends League, Denver Water, Temple Grandin Equine and founding partners of the National Western Center – Stock Show, City and County of Denver, History of Colorado, and the Museum of Denver Nature and Science, and the National Western Center Authority – has and will continue to make CSU Spur a resource for all of Colorado.
I would also like to honor the leadership of the CSU faculty who have come forward to bring their research and expertise to Spur—and our campus presidents, Joyce McConnell at our headquarters in Fort Collins, Timothy Mutt at CSU Pueblo, and Pamela Tony at CSU Global.
Above all, I would like to get to know the neighbors in the communities of Globeville, Elyria and Swansea who welcomed us and helped CSU understand how to be a good partner and a better neighbor in the long run. We are committed to being a well-established community organization that supports the long-term health and well-being of the community and its residents—a commitment we formalized this fall by creating an exclusive scholarship for students from ZIP Code 80216 to attend any CSU campus.
Spur’s idea for whiteboards has been carried over since 2008. We now have the keys to the Vida building (thanks to ICON, Clark & Enerson, and JE Dunn for the great facilities), and are ready to open the doors January 7. Our system team, led by Senior Vice Chancellor, is working Henry Subanet, Overtime in Tough Circumstances to give you all your first glimpses of what we’ve been dreaming about all these years.
This means it is time to start the real work. We hope this campus will spark the curiosity of children from both urban and rural backgrounds who would like to learn more about how food grows, where water comes from, and how to keep animals healthy. We hope that this campus will become a cherished partner with the K-12 schools in our state in delivering knowledge that is consistent with classroom content and available year-round. We hope that this campus will become a hub for innovative engagement with industries and business around pressing research challenges.
But most of all, we hope and believe that CSU Spur will make a difference in the lives of a child—thousands of children, in fact—who may begin to see their dreams and future more clearly after spending time on our campus.
It’s a big dream. We welcome you to join us in its revival in January, and to visit us throughout the year. For more information on grand opening events and daily activities, visit https://csuspur.org/events.
Dr. Tony Frank is the Chancellor of the Colorado State University System.
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