Rockies get land rights for lease extension, nobody actually seems to be scammed this time

The Colorado Rockies owners have succeeded in using a threat to demand upgrades to Coors Field to get the state of Colorado to sell them a large plot of land for development, as first reported last week:

The Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, the state division that owns Coors Field. In trade, the Rockies will be allowed to lease and develop a valuable plot of land directly south of the stadium for 99 years. For that, the team will pay the district $125 million.

Those numbers are a bit confusing, because part of the “lease payments” is actually the price for right to the land: The Rockies owners will pay $2.5 million a year in stadium rent for 30 years (up from $1 million a year under their old lease), plus $125 million over the next 30 years but “front-loaded.” If we guesstimate that that’s, say, $100 million in actual present value, then since an additional $1.5 million a year over 30 years is worth about $25 million in present value … let’s see, carry the two … if the land rights are worth significantly more than $125 million, the Rockies got a steal here, and if less than $125 million, then Colorado taxpayers are making out. Based on Google Maps eyeballing, it looks like about 400 by 250 feet, which is … let’s see, carry the two … 100,000 square feet, or about 2.3 acres. A couple of years ago a nearby 15,000-square-foot parcel sold for $10 million, so it actually looks like the state got a reasonable price. Wait, a stadium deal where potentially everybody’s happy? I must have woken up in Bizarro World this morning.

Denver Post levies Coors Field upgrade demands, says it only wants to protect taxpayers, really

So this is kind of weird: On Saturday, the Denver Post ran an editorial arguing that in lease renewal talks between the Colorado Rockies and the state-run Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for any renovation costs:

[District chair Ray] Baker said instead he’s hoping to craft a long-term lease that would be in the best interests of taxpayers and protect the asset that is the stadium. He said engineering studies have shown the stadium needs $200 million in infrastructure improvements to last for another 20 to 30 years.

We don’t think taxpayers should be on the hook for those construction needs, given that the initial lease so badly inhibited the stadium authority’s ability to raise long-term capital needs.

What’s weird about that? First off, the Post is actually a minority owner of the Rockies, so it’s more than a little odd to see their editorial board insisting on protecting taxpayers from their own demands. But also, this was the first mention of any potential renovation costs to Coors Field at all — not a peep out of the paper’s news reporters before this, or any other news outlet at all.

Read to the very end of the editorial, and it’s maybe clearer what’s going on:

Significant revenue sources need to be dedicated for the structural, electrical, water and sewer needs of the stadium.Without that, it’s likely voters will be asked to approve a new tax again to fund those needs, and that would be a hard sell this time around.

The bad news is that the Rockies, now an ingrained part of our cultural scene, could pack up Dinger, the dinosaur, and Nolan Arenado, the third baseman, and leave town.

Unlikely as that would be, it’s not unprecedented, and it’d be a sad day in LoDo.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Read between the lines, and it appears that Baker, the Rockies’ landlord, wants more funding to snazz up the stadium he runs in the future. The Rockies could choose to pay for any upgrades, obviously, but Baker wants a dedicated revenue stream — the editorial hints that this should be a cut of ticket sales and concessions — so what better way to lobby for one than to get the local paper to insist that it’s vitally necessary to avoid sticking taxpayers with a bill that doesn’t even exist yet?

The real message here, then, isn’t about urgent lease talks — the Rockies owners can unilaterally choose to renew their current deal for another 15 years — than to put a bug in the public’s ear that Coors Field is in urgent need of repairs, and somebody’s gotta pay for it, or else the team may leave. It’s nice and all that the Post is choosing to side with Baker that that somebody should be the team owners and not general taxpayers, but significantly less nice that the paper is trying to shift the goalposts to “We need $200 million, how are we going to pay for it?” at a time when nobody aside from the stadium manager is saying that upkeep of a stadium will cost almost as much as it took to build in the first place. In fact, that seems like the kind of claim that should be investigated by, you know, journalists. Wonder where the Post could find some of those.

UPDATE: Ah, this makes it all somewhat clearer: Apparently the Rockies owners are refusing to sign their lease extension, trying to use it as leverage to get the state to hand over development rights to the Coors Field parking lot in exchange for the team taking on maintenance and upgrade costs. (Aka “the Los Angeles Angels gambit.”) With this as the backdrop, the Post editorial makes even more sense, if by sense you mean “trying to shift the debate in favor of someone else paying for unneeded upgrades,” which is about as much sense as is on offer today.