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Stadium Scuttlebutt Swirls In Denver After Broncos Purchase

Empower Field at Mile High

With new owners and a new quarterback, Denver Broncos fans are in for a season of change, but what remains unclear in the days following the finalization of the Walton-Penner group as the team’s new owners is how the deep-pocketed ownership team will impact development plans around Empower Field at Mile High, as well as the stadium itself.

Speculation swirled in the Mile High City over the weekend following the Broncos’ first preseason game, a victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but talk of development around the stadium, or even moving it altogether, dates back years.

The Denver City Council in 2019 adopted the Sun Valley Stadium District Master Plan, a long-range planning guide to developing the area around Empower Field, which is among the most underserved communities in Denver.

Empower Field itself turned 21 this year, and the team still has 10 years on its lease agreement, but with a raft of stadium development in football cities across the country, the Broncos’ new owners are exploring their options. The stadium is owned by the Metropolitan Football Stadium District and managed by a subsidiary of the Broncos.

New Broncos CEO Greg Penner said in a press conference last week that the current digs “are a terrific facility” and that the team had “time to go out and see what the different options are.”

Following last week’s formal approval of the Walton-Penner group as the new owners of the Broncos, five of Colorado’s major-league teams are owned by people connected with the Walton family, of Walmart fame and money. The $4.65B purchase of Denver’s football team set a new record in professional sports.

Walmart heir and billionaire Robson Walton is now controlling owner of the Broncos, and Stan Kroenke, who is married to Walton’s cousin Ann Walton-Kroenke, owns the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids and Colorado Mammoth. Only the major league baseball team, the Colorado Rockies, is not controlled by the Walton-Kroenke family.

Kroenke has redevelopment plans for the downtown venue where two of these teams play. Earlier this year, he announced plans to redevelop 55 acres around Ball Arena, home to the Avalanche and the Nuggets. He’s also part-owner of the Elitch Gardens amusement park, the target of a 62-acre River Mile redevelopment that sits between Ball Arena and Empower Field.

No decisions on a move for Empower Field seem imminent. But that hasn’t stopped discussion among fans and local sports media. Aaron Atencio, a self-described Denver sports fan and co-host of the Poorly Informed Sports Show podcast last week posted a Twitter thread about the connections between Kroenke and the Broncos’ new ownership.

Although there’s a development plan in place for the neighborhood, Sun Valley lags behind other central Denver neighborhoods such as the Golden Triangle in terms of projects. Plans were put on hold due to the pandemic, according to panelists at Bisnow’s Future of Downtown Denver and Surrounding Neighborhoods event last week. 

Panelists also discussed how Denver sports team venues in the central business district might provide an opportunity to help reactivate downtown as office leasing there remains flat and workers resist returning.