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Empower Field at Mile High Stadium. (Unsplash photo)

The Denver metro governments that received checks — for hundreds of dollars or millions — after paying into a tax fund to help build Mile High Stadium are formalizing plans to spend the money on youth activities within their communities.

The city of Aurora’s housing and community services department announced last week the “Dream Big for Aurora Youth Campaign,” which encourages youths, people who work with kids and caregivers, including parents or guardians, to suggest how the city should spend its one-time $3.8 million award on youth-related activities and programs. The campaign webpage, which includes an idea board and short survey, will be open until March 31.

“We are looking to generate ideas around meaningful youth activities in Aurora,” said Jessica Prosser, director of the city’s housing and community services department. “We really want to make sure the youth voice is heard through this process.” 

Funding for the effort comes from the $4.65 billion sale of the Denver Broncos to the Walton-Penner Group in 2022, which resulted in a $41 million refund to the seven counties and 40 municipalities in the Metro Stadium District that helped fund the stadium for more than a decade. The checks range from $12.5 million for Denver to $112 for Castle Pines.

The money comes from a provision of a 1998 lease and management agreement between the district, PDB Sports and Stadium Management Company that required 2% of the net proceeds of the sale of the team to be paid to the district to be used for youth activity programs.

Communities can interpret how they want to use the money for young people. Matt Sugar, director of Stadium Affairs for the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, has said he hopes community leaders will invest in after-school programs, mentoring, music and art programs, sports, and mental health resources.

Though Sugar said there is not a timeline for when the money should be spent, when community leaders received their checks, they also got a letter advising them that he would ask for an accounting of how the funds were spent. He plans to ask community leaders for those accounting statements in September, a year after checks were cut.

The rebate checks were a pleasant surprise for community leaders, especially those that received the largest sums of money.

The district cut checks proportional to the amount each county and municipality collected in the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax that helped fund the stadium, which is owned by the district and now called Empower Field at Mile High. Taxpayers funded 75% of stadium construction through the tax, in effect from 2001 to 2011.

Gregory Penner, Condoleezza Rice, Rob Walton, Mellody Hobson and Carrie Walton Penner, from left, of the ownership group that purchased the Denver Broncos, pose with jerseys during a news conference at the NFL football team’s headquarters Aug. 10 in Centennial. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The purchase of the Broncos team by the investor group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, and her husband, Greg Penner, was approved by the NFL team owners group in August.

With the new funds in hand, the city of Aurora’s community engagement division will be conducting outreach by partnering with school districts and youth-serving organizations, hosting focus groups and offering tabling events on local streets to encourage community members to give their opinions on how the funds should be spent. 

The online survey will be the main way Aurora people can engage. Printed surveys in different languages will also be available at city libraries starting March 1. 

People who take the survey are asked if the money should be spent on art, mentorship, STEM, reading or youth violence programs — or on facilities such as skate park, courts and inclusive parks, library improvements or sports programming. 

Workers toil on the new stadium being built in the shadow of the old Mile High Stadium just west of downtown Denver in this July 21, 2000 photo (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Rachel Whipple, a community engagement coordinator who will be encouraging involvement from Aurora people at events this week, said once her team collects input from residents, the decision on what youth programs to fund sits with the city council.

“I definitely think it’s a great opportunity for our youth,” she said. “Our youth are definitely a very important part of our community, so it’s a very exciting opportunity, one way or the other, to be able to have some funding for them.”

She started looking at survey results as they came in Wednesday morning, less than a day after the platform launched. 

“We’re hoping to get quite a bit of community feedback,” she said. “We think that there’s going to be some creative ideas, or ideas we’ve never thought of before as a city, and so we’re excited to get out there and meet people and just hear what they have to say.”

Douglas County leaders said they’re also asking their constituents to decide how to spend the more than $939,000 it received for youth programs, said Wendy Holmes, the county’s director of communications and public affairs.

The county intends to host a live communitywide town hall early in the second quarter of this year to engage stakeholders to discuss ideas. The event will include a live polling portion to help tally opinions, and will be accessible in-person, by phone and online, she said. 

“We’ve been talking about it now for the last couple of months,” Holmes said. “It will probably be in April but there is no date yet set. We will market it heavily, and welcome all, and all ideas.”

The town of Nederland is planning several programs with the more than $21,000 it received from the sale. Planning for a weeklong junior firefighting camp for kids age 12 to 17 is underway, said Nicki Dunn, parks manager for the town, who is working with the local fire district to hone the content of the program. Town leaders are also discussing offering a much smaller scale firefighting camp for 8- to 11-year-olds.

The goal of the camp is to encourage strength building, education about fire behavior, traffic control, blaze mitigation, basic first aid and CPR, she said in an email. “The hope is that this camp would inspire local youth to participate in volunteer fire departments as they get older.”

“The idea was something that I thought of after a staff member of mine attended actual fire training with the U.S. Forest Service. Fire threat is real to me,” she said. Growing up in the area and seeing the intensity and frequency of fires increasing has led Dunn to believe in sparking peoples’ passion to either become a firefighter and/or value their work to protect people who are in danger, she said.

Nederland is also planning to use the money to help fund other new programs and boost some that already exist, she said. Dunn is meeting with the town’s youth advisory board to present them with a list of 15 ideas she came up with for how to use the money. She hopes, after the meeting, the group will choose the top 5 to 10 ideas she pitched while also offering their suggestions for programs that can eventually support local youths. In Nederland, hockey, dance and library programs need support through funds, she said.

“The timing of this money for Nederland is astounding,” she said. “This money is giving us a boost that will really allow this department to shine. I truly hope we can create inclusive programs that will last for years to come. It is truly my desire to see no child left behind.”

Tatiana Flowers is the equity and general assignment reporter for the Colorado Sun and her work is funded by a grant from the Colorado Trust. She has covered crime and courts, plus education and health in Colorado, Connecticut, Israel and Morocco....