Earlier this year, the Denver Broncos football team and other officials announced their plans to build a residential and commercial development on the southern parking lots of Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
That project could be finished as early as 2022 — and the finished product could house up to 2,000 people, plus retail space, restaurants, offices and 450 hotel rooms, according to an initial plan that was submitted to the city.
These preliminary estimates say the development could total nearly 3.4 million square feet, which is triple the size of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. Just less than half of that space would be for housing.
But these numbers represent rough (and possibly ambitious) guesses that were submitted to the city as part of the planning process. In fact, the partners still haven’t identified the developer that would build the project, according to Mac Freeman, the chief commercial officer for the team.
“Until we know what we’re able to build, it’s tough to talk about specific units or the specific benefits,” Freeman said at a Denver City Council meeting on Monday.
“I think we’re maybe two months away from being able to do that. You’re going to hopefully look at us and say, ‘Wow, you meant what you were saying.'”
The plan is being pushed jointly by the team and the governmental district that oversees and owns the stadium area. They hope to follow in the tracks of similar projects in Tampa, Atlanta and Detroit, according to public records.
They made a major move this week.
The project’s backers won an important approval on Monday: They cleared the way to build some of the core infrastructure for the project.
They say they need to spend nearly $150 million on roads, parks and more. Early estimates call for several parking garages, a new amphitheater, a “riverfront clubhouse” and a stadium entry plaza.
And the Broncos don’t have the money to pay the bills themselves, Freeman said.
“Yes, the franchise has appreciated, but that’s all on paper. The dollars that we make go right back into the football side, so that we can compete,” he said.
Instead, the partners are creating a “metropolitan district” — an organization that collects extra property taxes in a limited area in order to fund projects.
The Denver City Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve creation of the new taxing district, which will be called the Football Stadium Metropolitan District.
Who owns the stadium, anyway?
People in Denver and six surrounding counties paid for about $300 million of the stadium’s original $400 million cost through sales taxes, the Associated Press reported.
Today, the stadium is owned and maintained by the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which represents the seven counties.The Broncos rent it for a cost of about $3.5 million per year, with the lease running until at least 2031, according to financial documents.
Now, the team and the district’s leadership are pitching this development plan as a way to keep the facility in good shape. The stadium could need $500 to $700 million of maintenance and upgrades over the next 25 years, Freeman claimed, citing growing costs for video boards, cameras and other technology, along with traditional upkeep costs.
“It is getting expensive. It does require some grand plans like this to put a dent in what the needs will be going forward,” he said.
The finished development could be worth $1 billion. Annual retail sales could be nearly $100 million, and hotel rooms on the site could bring in nearly $31 million per year, according to financial documents submitted to the city.
Those profits could keep the existing stadium standing for another 25 years, “so we don’t have to go back to the taxpayers down the road,” Freeman said.
But none of the revenue from the development would go to the Broncos, Freeman said. Instead, it would go to the seven-county district.
However, Councilman Paul Kashmann asked whether there really was a difference between the district and the team.
The repairs to the stadium and the construction of the development, he said, could “greatly increase the value of the Denver Broncos football club.”
And he hinted at a deal: Would the Broncos promise to stick around for a certain number of years in exchange for all this development?
The response: No promises yet.
Here’s how others reacted.
Earlier this year, city planning director Brad Buchanan said that the proposal is “game-changing.” It would stand just across the river from the River Mile development, which would be even bigger.
Councilwoman Kendra Black stressed that Broncos can’t handle the costs of upgrades themselves. “I think there’s a perception that the Broncos have unlimited money,” she said at an earlier committee meting, describing that as an “inaccurate” perception.
For others, the concern was whether the city could guarantee that the project helps surrounding areas.
“Any kind of development that happens here, we want to see some kind of community benefit,” said Councilman Paul López at the earlier committee meeting. He pointed out the heavy taxpayer investment in the stadium, and the fact that it borders Sun Valley, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech suggested that development should include jobs training programs and affordable housing.
“Especially this being taxpayer land, it’s important to think not just about the taxpayer asset, but also to be thinking about other ways to benefit the community at large,” she said at the earlier meeting.
And Councilman Rafael Espinoza asked how the development would connect with surrounding neighborhoods, which are divided by the South Platte River, Interstate 25 and Federal Boulevard. (He also suggested that the Broncos should take the historic name of “Mile High Stadium” as part of this development plan.)
Leslie Twarogowski, executive director of the Federal Boulevard Business Improvement District, said that she hadn’t heard “one negative comment” about the idea.
David Roybal, a west Denver resident running for Denver City Council in 2019, worried about who the new development would serve. He said that the area’s athletic activities have grown far less affordable, while once they were a source of both jobs and entertainment for lower-income neighborhoods.
“The residents in Sun Valley, are they going to be able to benefit?” he asked. “I just hope that the new generation can benefit from this change.”
There’s still a long way to go.
The project will likely require a rezoning and a development agreement, both of which would go before the Denver City Council, according to city staff.
That process would probably bring more discussion about public amenities, affordability and the size of the buildings.
A little more detail:
Here’s what the project partners say they will spend the infrastruture money on.
- $6.4 million for demolition, grading and erosion control
- $3 million for sewer, water and drains
- $12.9 million for roads, landscaping and utilities
- $2 million to improve city streets
- $12.5 million for parks upgrades at Lakewood Gulch, near the stadium and near the river
- $2.5 million for surface parking
- $82 million for parking structures and a plaza
- And some other miscellaneous costs.