Last year thousands of baseball fans paid for the privilege of having their names inscribed on bricks placed along the Wynkoop Plaza leading to Coors Field. But for the same $75 fee paid by the masses, some of the most powerful people in Colorado got a little something extra.
The Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District raised $650,000 for public art through the sale of the personalized bricks, which are set into the plaza in the shape of a miniature baseball diamond. Contributors weren't given the option of designating where their bricks would go, and most landed in the outfield of the pint-sized ballpark. But bricks bought by dozens of Denver's heaviest hitters wound up getting preferential placement--within spitting distance of the tiny home base.
The all-star lineup includes Jerry McMorris, chairman, president and CEO of the Colorado Rockies; Ken and Charles Monfort, the Greeley meathouse moguls; Oren Benton, bankrupt billionaire and part owner of the Rockies; Tim Leiweke, former president of the Denver Nuggets; several members of the Gart family; and Ryan McKibben, publisher of the Denver Post.
Many of the same people can be found during Rockies games enjoying the luxurious private suites taxpayers financed at the top of the ballpark. So how did they end up getting similar red-carpet treatment on the district's other ballfield?
Tom Gleason, deputy director of the stadium district, says the bricks were sold on a first-come, first-served basis. However, he says the district sent out early invitations to people fortunate enough to be on its mailing list. That allowed the lucky few to get their money in before the program was announced to the general public in February 1994. "They were the first ones to put down $75," says Gleason.
And they weren't alone. District boardmembers and staff also got in on the early-bird offer--in part, says Gleason, out of fear that the bricks wouldn't sell out. "One of the things people in the district did was put their money down," he says. "The response was much stronger than anyone anticipated."
Gleason has a brick in the infield. So do John Lehigh, executive director of the stadium district, and Charles Nicola, the district's director of design and planning. Past and present stadium district directors or baseball commissioners with their names in lights include Josie Heath, Sue O'Brien and Max Wiley.
Most of the brick-holders say they don't remember being promised a spot near home base.
"I sent my money in and my coupon," says Post publisher McKibben. "I might have requested it as close to home plate as possible. I did not put in any threats in order to get a brick there."
Several Colorado politicians also got their names inside the diamond, including House Majority Leader Tim Foster, Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, representatives Norma Anderson and Ken Chlouber, and state senator Tilman Bishop.
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Foster says he remembers being sent a form to buy a brick but doesn't recall being promised a prominent spot. Chlouber and Feeley both say their bricks were gifts from friends.
"I haven't been able to find it," Feeley says. "I had no idea where it was [until contacted by Westword]. I'm not aware of anyone saying `We want this by home plate.'"
Sue O'Brien, a former member of the Colorado Baseball Commission and a longtime Denver journalist who now serves as the Post's editorial-page editor, bought several bricks. "My grandchild and I bought three bricks with separate checks in the same envelope," she said. "They're all within five or six bricks of each other."
O'Brien says she was surprised to discover her name so close to home plate. "I was told [the stadium district] thought the infield was for folks with pull," she says. "But I don't have any evidence.