Keeping Score

Think the Broncos want the kind of lease that made the Rockies rich? You're in the ballpark.

The three parties are now engaged in a high-stakes game of political maneuvering, with possible risks and rewards for each side. The city wants its money--but it wants the team, too. So does the stadium district board, which needs to craft a lease that will help convince voters that the Broncos need a new home. If the Broncos are perceived as demanding a lease that's outrageously unfair, it could cost them the election. After the Super Bowl win, polls showed a significant increase in public support for a new stadium, with a majority of potential voters saying they would approve the plan. But the team's private polling reportedly shows that large parts of the electorate still firmly oppose the proposed stadium, including anti-tax conservatives, liberal voters in Denver and Boulder counties, and women.

Since the Broncos make no secret of the fact that they want a new stadium to help fund multi-million-dollar player salaries, opponents are already painting the proposal as Robin Hood in reverse, taxing the public to make wealthy players (and a wealthy owner) even wealthier.

When the Coors Field lease was negotiated, Denverites were still starry-eyed at the prospect of winning a major-league baseball team, and few were willing to spoil the planned honeymoon by asking hard questions about public funds and private profits.

"In some respects, we're still a small town," says Williams. "We were naive."

In 1988, Neil Macey decided the time was right to bring major-league baseball to Denver.

Macey has been a real estate broker in Denver for years, specializing in downtown properties. In the 1980s he worked closely with John Dikeou, who then owned big chunks of downtown real estate, as well as Denver's only baseball team, the minor-league Denver Zephyrs (formerly the Denver Bears).

Dikeou told Macey he would be interested in helping to back a major-league team, one that would perhaps play in a stadium built on his land, and Macey started investigating what it would take to win one. Major League Baseball was talking about adding expansion teams, and although the National League had yet to make any commitment, the league made it clear that it preferred baseball-only facilities to a shared stadium like Mile High. Struck by the success of the 1988 sales-tax measure that created the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, Macey began to wonder if a similar setup would work for baseball.

"The SCFD won with 75 percent of the vote, which was amazing," recalls Macey. "I said, if you can get 75 percent for that, you can get 51 percent for baseball."

Macey had been active in Republican party politics for some time, and he began talking with Republican legislators. While Denver mayor Federico Pena had set up a Denver baseball commission to try to lure a major-league team here, polls showed that Denver voters would turn down a proposal to build a baseball-only stadium. So Macey tried to find a suburban legislator who would work with him to create a six-county tax district.

"When Neil came to me, he had a concept of doing a district based on the SCFD," says Williams. "He'd already asked three Republican legislators to do this, and they'd turned him down flat."

Williams had never been to a major-league baseball game in her life, but she thought bringing a team to Denver would boost the spirits of the recession-wracked town. "We were in an economic funk," she remembers, "and we were looking for any kind of economic stimulus we could find."

Together, Williams and Macey wrote a plan calling for the creation of a six-county baseball stadium district to be supported by a 0.1 percent sales tax. The 1989 legislation specified that the newly created Colorado Baseball Commission would make the pitch to bring baseball to Denver, while the baseball stadium district board and employees would handle all the technical aspects of building a ballpark and watching out for taxpayers' interests.

"We wanted a totally clean group that could decide how the bonds would be sold and do the design without having a personal ax to grind or a bed to feather," says Williams.

Governor Roy Romer appointed all the members of the stadium district board, including chairman John McHale Jr.

Once Williams and Macey had won over the legislature, they set out to win over the voters. Macey's easygoing sense of humor appealed to audiences, and he was a good match for Williams, a down-to-earth Adams County Republican who made a dollars-and-cents argument for the benefits of bringing a team to Denver.

With an August 1990 vote looming, the first polls showed only 26 percent of the electorate would support the proposed baseball stadium district. So the pro-ballpark campaign began emphasizing community pride, and that proved to be a powerful force in a city just emerging from its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. A $100,000 contribution from cable magnate Bill Daniels jump-started the campaign, which eventually assembled a $500,000 war chest.

In Denver in 1990, homes were still being sold at bargain-basement prices after being repossessed from their bankrupt owners, downtown skyscrapers were known as "see-through" buildings because they were half-empty, and lower downtown was a place suburbanites were afraid to go for fear they'd stumble over a bum passed out on the sidewalk.

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