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Greeley: Unexpected Tries To Change Decades Held Perceptions

Nathan Heffel

Greeley, Colorado has an image problem. One that it is trying to shake in an effort to drum up tourism.

Ask someone from Denver what they know about the city, and you’re likely to get answers like these:

Jeff Nikaido says, “Everybody always tells me about the smell when you go to Greeley.”
Laura Rickhoff simply says, “Cows.”
Cynthia Ord adds,  “I think there’s meat processing there if I’m not mistaken and bad smells.”

Those comments point toward Greeley’s agrarian roots.

Although the odor had been a problem for decades, Greeley received its national reputation while the Denver Broncos held training camp here in the 80’s and early 90’s. Media reports about the smell during practices spread like wildfire.

"I think Greeley has got the reputation that we have cattle yards, we have stock yards within the city limits,” said John Pantaleo, spokesman with the city of Greeley. “And I think that came from the fact that that was true, but that was years ago. However that reputation, that part of our reputation, has really stuck.”

According to the city's website, during the 1960's locals joked the smell was simply the 'smell of money.' But Pantaleo says the city is more than just its agricultural roots.

He notes the city has a vibrant arts community, is home to the University of Northern Colorado, and the oldest philharmonic orchestra in the state. “But agriculture being as large as it is in Northern Colorado, all the communities in Northern Colorado do have to endure and deal with the fact that there are agricultural odors in this area,” said Pantaleo.

For Derek Boulton and his wife Stephanie, owners of the Currier Inn Bed-and-Breakfast, once they saw the beautiful home for sale, they were intent on moving to Greeley.“The fact that we choose to live and work in Greeley is significant,” says Derek Boulton.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
The Currier Inn, Greeley.

The couple moved to Greeley three years ago.

Stephanie Boulton says as lifelong globetrotters, the pair of British expats fell in love with their home, and Greeley despite a Denver Realtor telling them they might not like the home.

“And she paused, ‘oh, yes. That’s in Greeley.’ And she said ‘you don’t want to look at that place,’ and I said why not? She said, and I quote: ‘I don’t think you’re culturally compatible with Greeley,’” said Boulton.

The city has taken steps to mitigate the smell such as creating an odor hotline. The meat packing plant, located on the northeast side of the city, now has a new smokestack that further decreases the problem.

The reputation and misperception still remains.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
The meat packing complex northeast Greeley

So how do you change that if you can’t stop the odor completely?

John Panteleo says by being unexpected.

“Well, ‘Greeley: Unexpected’ is a really nice way to represent the community. In fact, it’s not what they thought or what they heard in the past,” says Panteleo.

The city is taking an all-out assault on its old reputation. From posters on busses across the Front Range to signs at the Denver International Airport, the quarter of a million dollar campaign, paid for in part by a city lodging tax, is touting the many positives Greeley has to offer.

This isn’t the first time the city has attempted to re-brand itself. Nearly a decade ago the city tried ‘Greeley: Great from the Ground up.’

Panteleo says he hopes Greeley: Unexpected sticks, but acknowledges it’s not going to be easy changing such deeply engrained perceptions.

“When it takes decades to build a reputation, it’s going to take a long time to try to change that,” Panteleo says. So, in four or five years does he expect people not to bring up the smell when they think of Greeley?

He pauses, and says, “We’ll find out.”

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