Off Limits

Hundreds of grass-guzzlers lined up at the one-and-only Mile High Stadium late last month to buy rolls of souvenir sod lifted off the soon-to-be-paved-over playing field. The turf, which sold at $10 for a six-foot section, was so popular that the city -- with a big assist from Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown, who pitched the idea -- raised $30,000 that it will donate to New York City's police and firefighter relief fund.

But hold your horses, football fans: Wasn't the field replaced for the July 16 'N Sync concert -- which came well after the final Broncos game played at Mile High?

Well, kind of, but not really, according to Karen Kelly of Stadium Management Company, the Denver Broncos-owned subsidiary that runs the old stadium, which is owned by the City of Denver. "Most of what was sold was in the north part of the field, and the west part, which we didn't re-sod after the last Bronco season." And while she acknowledges that even though a few rolls of sod may have come from the south and east parts of the stadium, which were partially replaced over the summer, "it's definitely authentic," she says. "We had John Elway and Craig Morton and Joe Montana and Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson running around out here for the old-timers' game, so they definitely got good stuff that's been played on by big names. It was definitely touched by hallowed feet."

In fact, that game, a September 22 flag-football contest involving numerous retired players, may have imparted something extra special to the grass. "Elway was running around in his bare feet the day before the game," Kelly points out, "so his bare skin actually touched the grass." That should make the lawn-lubbers happy.

Standing on the newly grown grass of Invesco Field at Mile High is another feat entirely, as the Colorado Band Masters Association learned last month when the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which owns the new stadium, tried to charge the group nearly $50,000 to hold its annual high school marching-band competition on the premises. Last year the association had to pay only $17,000 for the same privilege at Mile High; this year's event was almost canceled before the two sides reached a compromise somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000.

Fortunately, the competition had a good turnout, and the association was able to recoup its costs, says Wayne Manzanares, chairman of marching affairs for the group. "The great weather may have brought them out, or maybe the newness of Invesco Field," he adds. "And the publicity generated by the stadium problem -- we couldn't buy that."

But the association did have to raise ticket prices -- from $10 to $12 for the finals -- and cut corners in other areas. In past years, for instance, the scoreboard was used to display information about each band as it played; this year Manzanares didn't even ask about using the scoreboard. "I was scared to death by the cost," he says.

The association's board of directors will meet next month to discuss next year's competition. Manzanares doesn't have high hopes that there will be a repeat performance at the new stadium. "I just don't know if we will be able to afford to do it again," he says.

As for the marching bands themselves, they appear to be played out. Jim Parker, chairman of Denver's 2001 Veterans' Day Parade, says not a single high school marching band has signed up for the November 10 event, despite his impassioned pleas. And this in a year when parades and patriotic marching bands would seem especially popular -- and needed.

"We've had as many as five marching bands in the past, but this year we've been unsuccessful in getting one," Parker says. "We asked in Denver and in Adams and Arapahoe and Douglas counties. They said we'd asked them too late, but you know, the shape the country is in, it really shouldn't be too late. You would think that after the type of turmoil we've been through, they'd be happy to participate."

Parker still hopes to line up a band, perhaps from another county. "If they show up on the day of the parade, they'll be in it," he says. "I'm not turning nobody down."

Dog daze: Construction on the five-year, nineteen-mile-long, $1.9 billion T-Rex highway-widening project finally began last month, and although the contractors haven't begun leveling the homes and businesses that stand in the way of the monster, most of the owners and occupants of these buildings have moved on -- either willingly or under protest. All told, around 310 properties had to be vacated to make room for wider lanes, ramps and bridges along I-25; that number includes 205 businesses or government offices and 87 houses, condos or apartments.

In fact, the only residents who haven't relocated yet are the small and fuzzy kind: prairie dogs.

Unfortunately for the dogs, neither the Colorado Department of Transportation nor RTD is going to pay market value for their homes, as these agencies had to do for everyone else. But at least the state did find alternative housing. "There are five prairie-dog colonies, two of which we need to relocate earlier than the other three," says Karen Morales, spokeswoman for Southeast Corridor Constructors, the T-Rex contractors. "We've gotten approval from Cherry Creek State Park for the first two, which are the biggest." Those colonies are currently located between Hampden and Quincy avenues on the east side of I-25, and on the southeast corner of the 1-25/I-225 interchange.

Before it gets too cold, probably later this month, wildlife biologists working for the state will trap 100 to 120 dogs and move them -- all expenses paid -- to their new homes. The remaining dogs, an estimated sixty or so, will be moved sometime in the future.

Do state officials wish they could have done the same with the homeowners and business owners, some of whom put up quite a fuss about moving? Morales offers a laugh rather than a comment.

As for the dogs, she hopes they'll dig their new digs. After all, she says, "There's much less traffic noise."


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