Name rights up for grabs?

Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, the­aters con­sider fundrais­ing

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Wen­zel

Den­ver and the coun­try’s largest non­profit theater group hope to raise mil­lions by sell­ing nam­ing rights to the Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, the Den­ver Per­form­ing Arts Com­plex and the in­di­vid­ual the­aters in­side it, The Den­ver Post has learned.

The plan could net tens of mil­lions of dol­lars and help close fund­ing gaps for pro­posed ren­o­va­tions, ac­cord­ing to city of­fi­cials and lead­ers at the Den­ver Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts.

But be­fore the city-owned and non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions that run these big cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions can book a dime of new rev­enue, they’ll need to work through a thicket of restrictions and com­plex ren­o­va­tion and rede­vel­op­ment plans, and nav­i­gate pub­lic sen­ti­ment that val­ues fa­mil­iar names over cor­po­rate lo­gos.

The city’s nam­ing-rights plans would be sep­a­rate from the Den­ver Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts (DCPA), the non­profit theater group that is the largest ten­ant in the Den­ver Per­form­ing Arts Com­plex. That down­town com­plex, which also hosts Opera Colorado,

the Colorado Sym­phony Or­ches­tra and the Colorado Bal­let, is sched­uled for a mas­sive over­haul by the city.

“Mak­ing sure that our the­aters re­main world­class will com­ple­ment the rede­vel­op­ment in the Next Stage plan,” DCPA pres­i­dent and CEO Jan­ice Sin­den said.

The Next Stage plan, still in the early phases, would ren­o­vate and ex­pand the Den­ver Per­form­ing Arts Com­plex to the tune of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, in­clud­ing pro­posed new high-rise build­ings and a new park­ing struc­ture.

The Next Stage is man­aged by the city’s Arts & Venues arm, so it would not in­clude pro­posed ren­o­va­tions to the DCPA’s own Stage and Rick­et­son the­aters within the He­len Bon­fils Theatre Com­plex. The DCPA also man­ages the Space, Jones, Gar­ner Gal­le­ria and Con­ser­va­tory the­aters, as well as the Don­ald Seawell Ball­room.

“The only the­aters we have the abil­ity to in­flu­ence the name of are con­tained in the Bon­fils,” Sin­den said. “So we would have the abil­ity to so­licit a $5 mil­lion donor, let’s say, for the Stage Theatre nam­ing.”

DCPA has re­quested $19 mil­lion from Mayor Michael Han­cock’s $937 mil­lion pro­posed Gen­eral Obli­ga­tion Funds pack­age, up for a vote in Novem­ber, for its theater ren­o­va­tions. Rev­enue from nam­ing rights could help fill the gap be­tween the money DCPA needs and the money it ac­tu­ally re­ceives, ac­cord­ing to a DCPA spokes­woman.

Sin­den raised the nam­ing rights is­sue dur­ing a re­cent Den­ver Post in­ter­view with new board chair­man Martin Sem­ple, who took the reins July 1. Since hir­ing chief de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer Deanna Haas this year — a po­si­tion that was empty for the last 2½ years — the DCPA is qui­etly launch­ing its first big cap­i­tal cam­paign, which is be­ing pre­sented to trus­tees for ap­proval.

“We’ve never re­ally been in­volved in any kind of ma­jor fundrais­ing in the 40 years of our ex­is­tence, and that’s go­ing to be a whole new chal­lenge,” Sin­den said of the cam­paign, which will in­clude the nam­ing-rights pro­posal.

Cur­rently there are no cor­po­rate names at­tached to the DCPA’s the­aters, the Den­ver Per­form­ing Arts Com­plex or the Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter as a whole. How­ever, Green­wood Vil­lage-based Bellco Credit Union is pay­ing $250,000 per year in a five-year con­tract that names the con­ven­tion cen­ter’s 5,000-seat venue as the Bellco Theatre (for­merly the Wells Fargo Theatre).

A spokesman for Visit Den­ver, the city’s tourism bureau that pro­grams the con­ven­tion cen­ter, re­ferred nam­ing-rights ques­tions to Den­ver Arts & Venues.

The sale and val­u­a­tion of nam­ing rights for the con­ven­tion cen­ter and arts com­plex, both owned by the city, nec­es­sar­ily falls to Arts & Venues. But it’s a tan­gled process that in­volves nu­mer­ous, ev­er­chang­ing fac­tors, of­fi­cials warned.

Any nam­ing-rights deal would need to fit into a bond-coun­cil analysis, which weighs the pri­vate use of a cor­po­ra­tion against a per­cent­age of the what they might re­ceive from the deal, com­pared to what­ever bond money was used to fi­nance the orig­i­nal project.

“With some­thing like Bellco, it ends up be­ing fairly strict ad­ver­tis­ing. They don’t have a bank in- side the build­ing, so there’s not much to con­sider in terms of pri­vate use,” said Brian Kitts, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Arts & Venues. “If the DCPA were to talk about nam­ing rights to its the­aters … they’ve got names on some of those the­aters any­way and it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mat­ter whether it is a per­son’s name or a cor­po­ra­tion. The El­lie (Caulkins Opera House) is another good ex­am­ple.”

Arts & Venues of­fi­cials have ex­am­ined mod­els for pub­lic-pri­vate nam­in­grights part­ner­ships from “all over the coun­try” as part of the Next Stage plan, Kitts said, al­though he did not name spe­cific cities.

“We’ve done a pre­lim­i­nary look at what the value of DPAC would be but, with­out know­ing what the rede­vel­op­ment of the Next Stage truly in­cludes, the range wasn’t very ac­cu­rate,” he said. “It’s a real chicken/egg thing.”

The dol­lar value at­tached to nam­ing rights also de­pends on the deal’s terms, in­clud­ing the length of the con­tract. Nam­ing rights for the Pepsi Cen­ter, for ex­am­ple, in­cluded a 20year ten­ure. And Kitts, who for­merly worked for Pepsi Cen­ter owner Kroenke Sports & En­ter­tain­ment, said deals of that length are harder to land.

The city runs into sim­i­lar is­sues with the Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, which is eye­ing a $233 mil­lion price tag for its own loom­ing ren­o­va­tions — more than dou­ble the $104 mil­lion that of­fi­cials dis­cussed be­fore vot­ers ap­proved ex­ten­sions of taxes on car rentals and ho­tel stays for the project in Novem­ber 2015.

Set­ting a value on Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter nam­ing rights is com­pli­cated by its ex­pan­sion plan. With­out a pro­jec­tion of the to­tal num­ber of at­ten­dees over the next few years, Visit Den­ver would po­ten­tially be pitch­ing in­ac­cu­rately low num­bers to cor­po­rate part­ners who are look­ing to plunk down huge amounts of money, Kitts said.

Re­gard­less, Den­ver and the DCPA could eas­ily net tens of mil­lions of dol­lars from fa­vor­able deals, judg­ing from sim­i­lar con­tracts at metro-area sports and mu­sic venues.

Dick’s Sport­ing Goods paid $40 mil­lion for a 20year deal to name Kroenke’s 18,000-seat sta­dium and 24 prac­tice fields in Com­merce City in 2006. The deal struck by As­cent En­ter­tain­ment Group, the builder of the Pepsi Cen­ter, and the soft drink maker was never con­firmed pub­licly, but Sports Busi­ness Daily re­ported it at $66 mil­lion — set to ex­pire in 2019.

In Novem­ber, the Den­ver Bron­cos hired Los An­ge­les-based sports mar­ket­ing firm WME-IMG to help find a nam­ing-rights part­ner for the Mile High sta­dium, which still bears the logo for failed sport­ing goods chain Sports Author­ity. Team of­fi­cials have said the 16-year-old, pub­licly owned sta­dium would prob­a­bly re­quire about $300 mil­lion in up­keep over the next 30 years. They could use a big nam­ing-rights deal to keep from ask­ing tax­pay­ers to fund the main­te­nance.

Sports Author­ity as­sumed the re­main­der of a $120 mil­lion Mile High nam­ing-rights agree­ment aban­doned by In­vesco Ltd. in 2011. Any new cor­po­rate logo on the sta­dium would be its third since 2001.

The Bron­cos ex­am­ple of­fers a les­son in pub­lic per­cep­tion about nam­ing rights, since many fans have con­tin­ued call­ing the venue Mile High Sta­dium — the proper name of the pre­vi­ous sta­dium — over the years, de­spite its cor­po­rate brand­ing.

“I have a memo some­where in my files from (DCPA founder) Don­ald Seawell say­ing ‘Over my dead body,’ ” said Suzanne Yoe, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the DCPA, re­gard­ing the po­ten­tial cor­po­rate nam­ing of the­aters in the Bon­fils com­plex.

In an email, she added: “His sen­ti­ment was that the (DCPA) was in­tended for the peo­ple of Den­ver, that all should feel wel­come and in­cluded.”

Seawell died in 2015 at the age of 103.

Re­plac­ing the names on beloved venues in the Bon­fils theater com­plex is still a ways off, how­ever, as is a cor­po­rate spon­sor for the arts com­plex or the con­ven­tion cen­ter.

“We’re in hold mode,” Kitts said. “Once (the Next Stage plan is) clar­i­fied, we’d go to mar­ket with a search for some­one want­ing those types of op­por­tu­ni­ties. … We just don’t have enough info to build on — yet.”

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