Longform

Keeping Score

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McHale did not return phone calls from Westword seeking comment, but when he was in Denver, he defended the Coors Field lease as a necessity to win a team. He also pointed out that the Rockies would be responsible for maintaining the new stadium, a cost that runs to several million dollars per year.

But just as McHale has his critics, he has his defenders. Denver wouldn't have a baseball team without McHale's persistence, they say, and the sweetheart-lease deal was simply the price of joining the major leagues.

"McHale had more knowledge about what it would take to get a baseball team in Denver than all the other people combined," says Steve Katich, who worked closely with former mayor Pena in an effort to bring baseball to Denver in the mid-1980s.

McHale's father had been a general manager of the Montreal Expos, and McHale had remarkable access to the owners and executives in the National League. Katich remembers a league meeting in Palm Springs where McHale asked his father to introduce Katich to baseball's movers and shakers. "He took us around to every owner of every team," recalls Katich. "It was the kind of thing where we went from knowing no one to having really solid relationships. McHale was quietly working behind the scenes to make this happen. He had more contacts with owners and team presidents than anybody else."

Katich believes the Coors Field lease that McHale negotiated was also what finally brought substantial local money into the Rockies' ownership group. "When local investors looked at this as something to invest in," he says, "the lease was a factor."

And locals were soon taking a good, hard look at the Rockies. In August 1992, Monus was forced to sell his share of the team after the embezzlement scandal broke. Antonucci exited shortly thereafter, and Jerry McMorris became the new team leader. The lease remained in place.

But in 1993, after the Rockies had taken to the field at Mile High and it was apparent the team would be a great success, the Rockies asked that Coors Field be expanded from 43,000 to 50,000 seats.

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."

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers