Keeping Score

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

In exchange for the district adding the seats, the Rockies agreed to pick up about $30 million in costs for the larger ballpark; the team also said it would give the district a 20 percent share of parking revenues and a small cut of ticket sales. In addition, the Rockies would pay the district 25 cents per fan every time attendance went over 2.25 million, 50 cents per fan when it hit 2.5 million, and $1 per fan when turnout reached 3 million.

Stadium district officials say the revised lease is a much better deal for taxpayers, one that will result in as much as $32 million being returned to local governments over the 22-year lease.

McMorris is far more sensitive to community opinion than Monus and Antonucci were, says former stadium district deputy director Gleason, and as a result, he agreed to put more team money into the ballpark. "Once the old ownership faded away, it made it much easier," Gleason adds. "Jerry McMorris lives here and has a strong sensitivity to what the community needs and deserves."

But Williams and Macey aren't as impressed and say this new lease is little improvement over the old one. It's unlikely the record attendance the Rockies have enjoyed will continue for twenty years, they say, so it's doubtful that local governments will see much profit-sharing from the Rockies' field of green.

"Once the stadium debt was retired, we wanted any revenue from naming rights and other sources to go back to the counties that had paid the sales tax," says Williams. After all, back in 1990, voters had been told the Rockies would pick up 30 percent of the cost of the stadium, then estimated at about $139 million. After the stadium district board made several additions and added a brick facade, the final tab for Coors Field swelled to $215 million, with the Rockies picking up less than 14 percent of the ultimate cost.

Today the Rockies' owners are scoring big at the bank, if not during actual games. And the precedent-setting lease that made such profits possible continues to be the envy of baseball teams around the country, as well as a certain football team in Denver.

"This raised the bar," says Williams. "All of a sudden, everybody wanted a lease like the Rockies."

Will the Broncos' lease on their proposed stadium be a duplicate of the deal the Rockies originally got at Coors Field?

"I'll tell you, it won't happen again as long as I sit on that committee," says Suplizio, who is negotiating the lease with the Broncos as a representative of the football stadium district. "I favor fairness on behalf of the taxpayer. There will not be an agenda where the Broncos get everything, and nobody is going to use this to get a job with the Broncos."

Suplizio also vows that no promises made to taxpayers will be broken, as they were at Coors Field. By law, the Broncos must pay 25 percent of the total cost of the new stadium, currently estimated at $350 million. While the legislation also allows for $75 million in taxpayer-financed cost overruns, the Broncos are still committed to covering one-quarter of the final tab. "They'll be sharing 25 percent of whatever the final cost is," Suplizio says.

The city is also involved in the current negotiations. Before a new stadium can move forward, Denver will have to agree to release the Broncos from their lease at Mile High, which runs through 2018. Since the legislation allowing a November election on the stadium issue also requires that a tentative lease be ready before the vote, all three parties are under the gun to come up with an agreement by the end of the summer.

"We're making good progress, but it's a lot of stuff to get done in a constrained period of time," says Liz Orr, an aide to Mayor Wellington Webb who is representing the city in negotiations.

According to Orr, the biggest issue for Denver is what will happen to $27 million in debt the city has been paying off with revenues from Mile High. Those funds were used to make improvements at the Denver Performing Arts Complex and at Red Rocks, and the city has made it clear that the Broncos will have to cover those debt payments. "Not having major financial obligations left from Mile High is a big concern," says Orr.

According to sources within the team, the Broncos have countered that the city will save millions in Mile High maintenance expenses if a new stadium is built, and the team wants that sum deducted from Denver's estimate of what it will lose in Mile High seat-tax revenues. A 1995 report by the Lonco engineering firm estimated that it would cost the city more than $14 million to maintain Mile High through 2008. (There's reportedly been some discussion that if voters give the team a thumbs-down in November, the Broncos will go to court with the claim that Denver has violated the terms of the lease by not adequately maintaining Mile High--as shown by that Lonco report.)

Denver also wants to be sure the lease for the proposed stadium cannot be broken sometime in the future by an owner with wanderlust. The legislation authorizing the election specifies that the new lease must run at least twenty years, although Orr says the city would prefer a 25-year commitment from the Broncos.

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