The throngs of adoring fans gathered in downtown Denver to celebrate the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup win, reminded this state that sports teams are not just entertainment; they are a statewide asset.
Coloradans are better for the Avalanche, Broncos, Rockies, Rapids, Nuggets, and Mammoth, even when the sports franchises aren’t bringing home national titles.
But make no mistake, these sports teams are privately owned and we are at the mercy of the owners to continue investing in their companies’ futures in this state.
This brings us to the point of this editorial: Colorado must be in the driver’s seat concerning the home for our beloved Denver Broncos.
The owners of sports teams have a history of running roughshod over communities, cementing sweetheart deals for publicly built stadiums, or moving the team to some place where elected officials are less frugal with taxpayer dollars.
Somewhere between those would be another bad deal for the state: An owner who pulls the Broncos from Empower Field at Mile High and builds a private stadium somewhere else in the state that renders the existing taxpayer asset worthless when in reality it still has much life left in its 22-year-old bones.
Colorado has little time to prepare.
We are certain Rob Walton and the ownership team that won a $4.65 billion bid for the Broncos have a plan, and that plan might not align with what’s best for Coloradans.
Elected officials representing cities and counties in the stadium district must put together an offer now that flips the power table and leaves Coloradans with the upper hand in these negotiations.
The public paid for most of the new Mile High, completed in 2001, with a 10-cent sales tax on every $100. We paid off those $300 million in bonds in 2012, but it hasn’t been a good return on investment just yet. Retiring the stadium now would be premature and could undermine a plan to rejuvenate the entire stadium district, including the historically impoverished Sun Valley community.
So how do we protect ourselves, our tax dollars, and our Broncos?
First and foremost, local elected officials in cities and counties must not allow Walton, or a board appointed by Walton and other members of the existing stadium district, to get taxing authority. If that sounds like an obvious position, keep in mind that the city of Denver handed Stan Kroenke, owner of the Avalanche, and other investors taxing authority via a metro district on 62 acres of private land where Elitch Gardens operates now. Kroenke and developers of the land can issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds to develop the land, which will be paid back by taxpayers who buy property in the planned development known as The River Mile. Potential buyers in the area should beware of property taxes that may be double the rest of downtown.
Plans for The River Mile development should be developed closely with plans for the Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District property, including 50 acres of surface parking lots that are ripe for mixed-use housing and commercial property. Oversight by elected officials of the existing stadium district and a related non-profit set up to coordinate the development of the parking lots is essential.
Colorado voters have learned their lesson about using taxpayer dollars to fund a stadium that benefits a private business. However, voters would have no say if a city our county creates a new metropolitan district on vacant land either near the existing Mile High or out in the suburbs. It may be too late, in fact, if Walton ends up striking a deal for a new stadium within the existing River Mile metro district land for voters to have any say in who pays for a new stadium and how.
Also, keep in mind that both the land planned for The River Mile and the Broncos’ stadium land are in federally designated Enterprise Zones where private investments grow federal income tax free. Any public support of private development must also compensate for the fact that this land is now in effect a federal income tax-free zone. The benefit of those on-shore tax havens should in some ways flow to the people of Colorado.
Much is at stake in Denver as plans for this land develop.
Elected officials with integrity and uncompromising moral standards must drive this ship.
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