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The Broncos' Mile High Parking Lots Prep for a Makeover

SportsBiz: South of Broncos Stadium, 52 acres of parking may be on the verge of transformation


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Remember when they used to pave paradise and put up a parking lot? (Google it, young people: “Joni Mitchell.”)

Now the parking lots are on the verge of being obviated as the world of professional sports embraces a longstanding principle of real estate development: devoting a selected plot of land, or at least hinging its assessed valuation, to its “best and highest use.”

Thus, even if you or I happen to own two weed-infested vacant lots smack dab in the middle of RiNo (which, sadly, you and I do not) the taxman is going to assess the value based on the potential transformation of our humble parcels into one of those sleek high-rise buildings where first-year attorneys who pull down $175,000 plant IKEA bookshelves.

In the case of Broncos Stadium at Mile High (or whatever it’s called by the time you read this), the sprawl of asphalt surfaces known as the south-side parking lots is being eyed for a serious makeover that will transform these 52 acres from occasional tailgate meccas to always-open constellations of retail stores, restaurants, apartment buildings and, here and there, strips of grass and bike lanes.

It’s an ambitious plan to retool an expanse of stadium-ringing earth into the latest concept in the business of sports, which, lacking an official name, we will henceforth call “weed and greed.”

That’s “weed” as in plucking away the sprigs of Colorado camelthorn and knapweed that grow between cracks in the concrete, bulldozing away the remaining asphalt skin that’s layered atop and readying the surface for some major construction work. The “greed” part, with apologies to all involved, springs from the idea that some serious money is to be made by drafting on the magnetic allure of All Things Broncos. What was once a Sunday football game is now seen as what sports industry executives call an “entertainment destination,” a central attraction for ready-to-spend consumers who are to be bedazzled by gleaming collectives of stores, watering holes and restaurants that lather various sauces atop chicken wings. Think Union Station – the new Union Station – but with NFL football players rather than trains serving as the instruments of engagement.

The concept is part of the Stadium District Master Plan, a partnership of the Metropolitan Football Stadium District and the Broncos, which has been approved by the Denver Planning Board and is up for consideration by the city council. You can find gobs of detail online, spelling out what I confess is a fetching vision for a new residential and retail complex south of the stadium. The idea, writ simple, sounds unimpeachable: Take a swath of unused (or in this case under-used) land and turn it into something grand, glorious and gridiron-infused. Proponents point out the parking lots sit empty most of the year, used only when the Broncos or Outlaws have a home game, or there’s a concert revving up. To argue that this is the “best and highest” use seems preposterous out of hand. Transforming a central Denver slice of real estate into a place you’d like to gather, shop, live or explore seems the proper thing to do. Bonus: It creates opportunities for revenue that can be plowed into needed stadium improvements, as an alternative to imposing a secondary tax on stadium district residents.

And yet, is anybody else bothered by the thin veil of hyper-pitched American hucksterism behind all this? There was a time, after all, when a Sunday at the old Mile High Stadium was just that: a pilgrimage to a football game. Part of the charm was the disheveled-ness of the whole experience, the taco joints and backyard parking and the dusty sidewalks alongside Federal Boulevard that suddenly filled with legions of high-fiving, smiling, orange jersey-wearing fans who transformed the vibe the old-fashioned, organic way. Marching toward 21st Street, they were a proud bunch, families that had owned season tickets since the days of the striped socks, well known to burrito vendors and bottled water entrepreneurs who claimed their plots of land along the route.

Thus, if there’s one request we can broach to the powers that be as they consider public sentiment here, it’s that somewhere in the development plan there’s room along the sidewalk for a food truck or two. Or if we’re lucky, they’ll reserve a wide expanse for nothing but hard dirt and makeshift barbecues as a nod to earlier era: when Buffalo Wings didn’t cost $2.50 per. And the game was still the thing. 

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Stewart Schley

Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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