Longform

Keeping Score

Page 6 of 7

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.

"We want to make sure it's very difficult to try to break this lease," adds Orr.

It's already assumed that the Broncos will get the lion's share of revenue from parking, concessions, luxury boxes and advertising at the new stadium. Suplizio wants the team to agree to provide $2 million to $3 million per year from those sources to pay off the taxpayers' debt on the facility. After that, he'd like to see the money go back to the community.

"Something like that could be used, after the debt is paid, for high-school sports programs," says Suplizio, noting that the Broncos could generate $30 million or more a year in revenues from the stadium.

The Broncos aren't saying much about what they want to get out of those current negotiations. The team is being represented by Steve Farber, the politically well-connected Yber-mensch whose law firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland, lobbied the legislature hard on behalf of Pat Bowlen this spring. Farber also represented Ascent Entertainment Group in its negotiations with Denver over construction of the Pepsi Center.

Bowlen has freely admitted that the team's push for a new stadium is motivated largely by the multi-million-dollar salaries now commanded by football superstars. To pay those salaries, the Broncos say they need the cash that would come from a state-of-the-art stadium that includes lavish concessions, club seating and dozens of luxury boxes. "Our whole reason to do this is to get the stadium revenues," Broncos spokesman Porter Wharton told Westword earlier this year. "It's increasingly difficult for us to maintain a competitive franchise at Mile High."

One source who has been working with the team says the Broncos want to make sure they'll be in the same financial league as the Dallas Cowboys, who reap a startling $40 million per year from Texas Stadium. "What the Broncos want," he says, "is a lease that will put them in the upper tier and allow them to compete."

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers