The home opener is still hours away, but the Colorado Rockies already have a hit on their hands.
On April 4, the team hosted a reception at Coors Field to reveal the name of the 655,000-square-foot project now under way in the former parking lot just across 20th Street from the ballpark. In 2018, the team's ownership group had signed a 99-year, $125 million lease with the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District to develop the property; the Colorado Rockies Baseball Club also agreed to keep the Rockies playing at Coors Field through 2047 for another $200 million.
At the gathering in the newly spiffed-up ballpark, Colorado Rockies owner/chairman and CEO Dick Monfort announced that what had been referred to as the West Lot project will become McGregor Square, to honor the Rockies’ late president, Keli S. McGregor, who was with the team for seventeen years — from its first season at the old Mile High Stadium in 1993, before Coors Field was completed in 1995 — before he passed away on April 20, 2010, at the age of 48. His wife and their four children were all present at the official naming ceremony.
But the name of McGregor Square wasn't the only revelation at that event. Although "The Evolution of the Ball," Lonnie Hanzon's mammoth sculpture that had stood at the edge of the walkway along Wynkoop Street now subsumed by the McGregor Square project, had been unceremoniously packed away as construction began, its future unknown, the beloved artwork appears in this video of McGregor Square that debuted at the gathering:
Hanzon's 32-by-42-foot sculpture, a $115,000 commission that was part of the public-art portion tied to the construction of Coors Field, was designed to frame the entrance to the ballpark, and initial plans for the West Lot project moved it up to a mezzanine that not only changed the orientation of the piece, but was too small. When he got wind of the plan (the piece didn't appear in early schematics for the West Lot project), Hanzon called foul and created a Save "The Evolution of the Ball" Facebook page.
“One hundred and thirty people worked on that sculpture,” Hanzon told me this summer. “It was my first public-art piece ever, my most inspired piece ever.” It's also his most-loved (which is saying a lot, since Hanzon is responsible for projects ranging from the design of the Wizard's Chest to the Houston Zoo Lights). The ball-bedecked top was designed to draw the eye up to the angles of Coors Field and away from the caverns of 20th Street, he explained; the support columns consisted of 108 glazed, three-dimensional tiles depicting balls of every type, from oddball to eyeball to wrecking ball to debutante ball to eight-ball.
Which is what Hanzon felt he was behind after the sculpture was removed without an agreement on a suitable future site. But negotiations have continued between the team, the district (which technically owns the piece) and the artist's attorney. In a recent message to the lawyer, the district's Matt Sugar noted that while the project is still two years away from completion and the Rockies are very busy right now, "I think it's fair to say that both the District and the Rockies have worked diligently to come up with solutions to preserve, protect 'The Evolution of the Ball,' with the ultimate goal of restoring it to near its original home with minimal alterations."
And while the fact that his piece appears in the McGregor Square video came as a surprise, Hanzon is feeling optimistic that the sculpture will get back in the game. "I have been reassured that we will reach a written agreement with the Stadium District, and that 'The Evolution of the Ball' is going to be rebuilt near its original location and orientation, close to the bridge,” he says.
McGregor Square is slated to open in January 2021, with plans slightly scaled down from the Ball-less designs presented a year ago, but it will still have three buildings surrounding a 29,000-square-foot open-content plaza, housing 112 private residences, a 176-room hotel, restaurants, retail stores, commercial office space and multiple entertainment spaces. A bridge walkway over 20th Street will lead directly into Coors Field.
And at the entrance to that walkway? "The Evolution of the Ball."
Now play ball!
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.