In baseball, they say legends are born in October. The legend of Coors Field, however, began on April 26, 1995, when it became the first baseball-only stadium built for a National League team since Dodger Stadium in 1962. The story of its success, though, was anything from assured on that season’s opening day.
In the early 1990s, the northwest side of downtown Denver was a wasteland of dilapidated, turn-of-the-century brick buildings. Save for El Chapultepec, which debuted in 1933, there was little reason to find oneself west of Larimer Street or north of 17th Street. That is, until Coors Field opened and created demand for nearby bars and restaurants. Condos, apartments, and office spaces soon followed, ultimately spawning neighborhoods with now-familiar names like Ballpark and LoDo and RiNo. In short: The northern reaches of downtown Denver owe much of their cool-kid status to the Rockies’ ballpark.
Dick Monfort, chairman and CEO of the Rockies, acknowledges the stadium’s role in the genesis of modern Denver. “I haven’t been to another baseball stadium that’s located as well as Coors Field,” he says. “We are seriously right in the heart of everything.” Fortunately for Monfort, the close-to-home-base breweries and eateries—not to mention the addition of the Rooftop to the stadium itself—have helped turn out fans. Over the past decade, the team has consistently finished in the top half of MLB in attendance, even drawing more fans than all but five teams during a disappointing 2019 campaign; the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers are the only other midmarket teams that have had similar success filling their ballparks. “Going to Coors Field has always been about more than just watching a game,” says Tracy Ringolsby, a former Rockies beat reporter for the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. “You can do all these things around the game and you only have to park your car once.”
Unfortunately, impressive attendance (and related revenues from ticket and concession sales) hasn’t led to much winning. The team has only made the playoffs five times in 27 years. The Cardinals, by contrast, have made 14 postseason trips in the same time period. Since 1993, the Rockies have discarded six managers, struggled to develop pitching, and traded away multiple in-their-primes superstars. Before COVID-19 shut down spring training, this past offseason felt like more of the same: All-everything third baseman Nolan Arenado was the subject of trade rumors and said he felt disrespected by general manager Jeff Bridich.
Although uncertainty continues to swirl around the Rockies on the field (when play resumes the 2020 roster will look almost identical to last year’s, which won just 71 games), the organization still seems confident in the lessons it’s learned from Coors Field’s past: Namely, that a day spent carousing around LoDo can make up for mediocre baseball. As such, Monfort and company plan to expand the brand’s footprint—and revenue—with McGregor Square. The 659,000-square-foot mixed-use development located just southwest of Coors is scheduled to open in January 2021 and will include everything from a hotel to, yes, another food hall. It might seem like a gamble to bank on pageantry over playoff runs, but the decision to continue the add-more-experiences ethos may be the right move in a city where sunshine and beer have always seemed to be more coveted than pennants.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the April issue of 5280, which went to press before COVID-19 became the biggest story in recent memory. As such, some events and dates listed may now be out of date. For more on how 5280 is shifting coverage during this time, read Editorial Director Geoff Van Dyke’s editor’s note.