Remember back in 2007 when, for a few months, there was a controversy over the old Light Bulb Supply Building site at 21st and Delgany behind Coors Field? The owners at the time, Bill and Paula Leake, wanted to rezone their property to RMU-30, which would have allowed their underutilized property to be developed with a building up to 140 feet in height. A few neighborhood groups and the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District (owner of Coors Field) objected to the plan, saying that it would block the view of the mountains from Coors Field.

In response, a view plane ordinance was proposed that would have originated at a point in Section 222 Club Level of Coors Field, limiting new buildings within the view to a height of 72 feet. The problem with a 72-foot height limit was that, with the elevated I-25 HOV lanes soaring 40 feet above ground past the property, not enough of a 72-foot tall building would rise above the flyover to make the project profitable. Also, there was some debate as to the degree to which a 140-foot tall building at the site would really block mountain views anyway. Here’s a rendering, prepared by Buchanan Yonushewski Group (which represented the Leakes at the time) of the view from Section 222 Club Level with a 140-foot building at 21st and Delgany, as well as the Commons (Central Platte Valley) approved bulk plane behind it:

For more background on the issue, here’s a Rocky Mountain News article and editorial from 2007. Anyway, the view plane issue was put on hold so that it wouldn’t detract from the Rockies’ historic World Series run at the time, and since then there’s been no news on the matter… until now.

Jared Jacang Maher has the latest at Westword: The Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District bought the property from the Leakes for about $2.4 million. You may conclude that this is a win-win for everybody: the Leakes get the value out of their property and Coors Field gets to protect its view. I’m not so sure.

The Stadium District plans to turn the 21st and Delgany site into a surface parking lot after they lose some of their surface parking along upper Blake Street to RTD for a FasTracks transit line. Even that may seem reasonable. But what bothers me is the Stadium District’s viewpoint, as expressed by District director Ray Baker: “There’s just not enough [parking] currently with what we have and what will be taken.”

That’s right, there isn’t enough parking around Coors Field, and that’s a damn good thing. The point of placing Coors Field in a Downtown location without nearly the number of parking spaces that it normally would have if it were in a suburban location, was to force people to either a.) take transit, or b.) park throughout the Downtown area and walk/mall shuttle to the stadium, thereby filling the sidewalks with pedestrians and making Downtown a better, more urban place. A place will never become more urban by making it easier to get there by automobile. Let me repeat that: A place will never become more urban by making it easier to get there by automobile! Until we learn that lesson in Denver, we’ll never have the Downtown we strive to have.

“We can’t simultaneously promote walking and bicycling while continuing to facilitate driving.” – Albert Einstein

And, need I remind the Stadium District that Coors Field is located two blocks from what will be the largest multi-modal transit hub in the entire region?! Why does the District feel that they will need to replace the parking spaces they lose to RTD for transit construction, when those very same transit lines will put millions of people throughout the Denver region within a few miles of a transit line that will conveniently drop them off two blocks away from Coors Field?! Did the Stadium District ever consider that when all the FasTrack lines are up and running that fewer people might, you know, drive to the stadium?

The Stadium District should be working hand in hand with the City and the Downtown Denver Partnership to steadily, strategically, replace the surface parking lots around Coors Field with dense, mixed-use development and, if we must, structured parking. The more Coors Field is surrounded by an intensity of shops, restaurants, housing, hotels, offices, and sidewalks teeming with people, the more exciting it will be to go to a game. We want Coors Field to be in the center of it all, immersed in a pedestrian-scaled urban domain, not surrounded by a sea of asphalt like the Pepsi Center is.

In the Rocky article, Mr. Baker is quoted as saying: “We have an obligation to protect the ambience of the experience of going to Coors Field and protecting that view. I think it would be detrimental to taxpayers not to do so.” You want to protect—enhance—the ambience of the experience of going to Coors Field? Make the experience more urban, more walkable, more engaging. You want to benefit the taxpayers? Make the Coors Field experience more sustainable by discouraging driving to the stadium and by invigorating the streets of Downtown with economy-stimulating pedestrians. Seems to work just fine for Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Fenway Park.

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” – Fred Kent

So, the Leakes get their money but Downtown gets a new surface parking lot. I’m happy for the Leakes, but I’m disappointed in the Stadium District’s parochial perspective. I expect more enlighted, progressive thinking from the owners of our Downtown ballpark. But, I’ll make the Stadium District a deal: Develop Block C into a dense, mixed-use project, and I’ll support your parking lot at 21st and Delgany.