Broncos’ Stadium at Mile High—the new, temporary moniker for the Denver landmark—is surrounded by approximately 100 acres of land, but none of it is all that appealing to look at. Almost all of the space surrounding the pro football field is paved into parking lots, only to be used on game days and during other big events. For our rapidly growing city, these asphalt landscapes look a whole lot like wasted space. That will likely change. Within a few years, one might find housing, restaurants, shops, and green spaces in the Stadium District—Denver’s newest, full-fledged neighborhood.
This past Wednesday night, city planners—long with representatives from the Metropolitan Football Stadium District and the Broncos—hosted the first in what will be a series of public workshops seeking the opinions and input of community members on what changes they would (and wouldn’t) like to see in the area. Bars and burger joints are natural fits, of course. But the “game-day experience” is by no means an everyday experience. With that in mind, planners aspire to create a Stadium District that also provides solutions to questions such as, “What happens when you wake up in the morning and need coffee?” says Jason Whitlock, principal city planner for the City and County of Denver.
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City Councilman Paul Lopez (District 3), who represents neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, including Sun Valley and West Colfax, says this is an opportunity to support Denver’s diverse population—particularly low-income residents who have lived in this area for years. “For so long they’ve lived in the shadow of the stadium. Now it can achieve its full capacity as an economic engine, but something they can enjoy, that is going to benefit them,” Lopez says. “It’s not going to require them to move to enjoy it.” In other words, the stadium project is not just another path to gentrification.
“A lot of the development we’ve seen has been development that has either shortchanged or not even addressed some of these issues in the city with affordability or economic opportunity. This is an opportunity to set a new standard, to show how development is done,” Lopez says. “You want to make sure neighborhoods are diverse, economically and culturally. You want to make sure they’re attainable, accessible. In order to do that, you’ve got to create those opportunities. You’ve got to build it in.”
There’s no doubt that population growth is part of the push to develop the Stadium District. But it’s also to address necessary maintenance for the Broncos’ Stadium, which will cost between $500 and 700 million over the next 25 years. “We don’t want to see [the stadium] start to deteriorate,” says Mac Freeman, the Broncos’ chief commercial officer. Seven metro counties paid the initial tax for the stadium, making the building itself a “taxpayer asset,” but that revenue stream ended in 2011. Rather than going back to the taxpayers to ask for more money, if the land is developed, money from developer’s leases will be funneled into the upkeep of the building. That’s a win–win, according to the city.
Community members who attended this week’s meeting were encouraged to share their perceived challenges and hopes for the new Stadium District by affixing Post-It notes with ideas onto a large board. Many ideas emphasized pedestrian access, less emphasis on infrastructure for cars, and making sure existing residents don’t get pushed out of their homes. Another board invited participants to use stickers to rank which elements they most wanted to see created: parks, stores, public transit, restaurants, playgrounds, bicycle infrastructure, river access, job opportunities, public art, and parking. “Parking” was the only category not a single resident prioritized.
According to Lopez, engaging the community the decision-making process when creating a new neighborhood from scratch is vital. “We’ve got to do this the right way,” he says.
Get involved: The next public meeting for the Stadium District will be held in early fall 2018. Learn more at denvergov.org/stadiumdistrict.