The suite life
Mesa, high schools use Lincoln Park hospitality level as fundraising tool
They start out talking in hushed tones, not really sure of the decorum when watching football indoors.
The first big play their team makes draws applause, and a “YES!” that is followed by a quick look around to see if they were too loud.
By halftime, they’ve rearranged the tables and are hooting and hollering for their boys.
They’re not quite as loud as they might be if they were sitting in the bleachers below, but fans who have opted to watch high school and college football in the Lincoln Park Tower hospitality level get comfortable in their surroundings pretty quickly.
They’re paying a little more for that perk than those sitting in the bleachers, but they’ve got a great view of the field and a catered meal.
If they’re filling their plates away from the floor-to-ceiling windows, they can keep an eye on the game on one of eight television screens throughout the room that are streaming the game from the video room one floor below on the press level. The public-address announcer’s call is piped in, and they’ve got two private restrooms.
If it’s chilly and rainy outdoors, they’re warm and dry. If it’s a warm afternoon, the room is air-conditioned, and the windows are tinted.
For some, it’s a once-a-season treat. Others are hooked and are upstairs at every home game.
“Everyone seems to be having a good time,” Grand Junction High School Athletic Director Ned Pollert said.
Offering “skybox” seating is rare at the high school and small-college level, something you might expect at Texas high school games, but western Colorado?
The bonus, though, is fans are putting money into the cash-strapped coffers of the schools.
When the Lincoln Park Tower was built, the prospect of using the fourth-floor hospitality level as a fundraiser was a no-brainer.
“This is why we wanted to do it in the first place, to help (schools) as a fundraiser,” said Jamie Hamilton, who spearheaded the Tower project in his role as the chairman of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
The four high schools and CMU, as partners in Grand Junction’s Parks Improvement Advisory Board and the Tower project, can rent the hospitality level for $150 for four hours on football game days.
If two School District 51 teams are playing, the home team has the first option to rent the space. Each school decides how to run the party. The booster clubs get involved, some decorating with streamers and balloons in school colors.
CMU is renting the top floor to businesses or groups for $3,000 per game, which includes 100 tickets to the game, food, soft drinks and beer. Proceeds go into the general athletic fund.
The Maverick Club is using the second-floor mezzanine for its M Block gathering, reserved for club members at the $1,000 donation level and above.
Rick Adelman, president of the Maverick Club and head of the CMU Alumni Association, said between 40 and 50 members took advantage of the shaded open-air level during Mesa’s first home game, which serves food and has a cash beer bar.
“It’s a great addition to the community,” Adelman said.
The four high schools vary in how they’re using the hospitality level, especially this season since it’s a new option.
Those in the VIP section during prep games get a light meal, anything from a taco bar to barbecue sandwiches to chili, and soft drinks. No alcohol is available at the high school games, School District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain said.
The athletic directors met before the school year to brainstorm ideas, and Grand Junction had some parents who took on the project.
“Our boosters sold packages,” said Pollert, ticking off a list of levels sold to area businesses: platinum, gold, silver, bronze and Tiger, with various perks, including tickets to the hospitality room.
A season VIP pass is $125 for Grand Junction games, and $25 per game is the going rate for fans.
“Looking at how much money we might end up with, we have no idea,” Pollert said. “There are expenses with everything.”
The main expenses are the room rental, food and $5 per ticket to School District 51 to pay the city’s gate tax and field rental. Getting a sponsor to cover the cost of the meal could net a school upwards of $1,000 a game, depending on the number of VIP passes sold.
With four or five home games each, that’s a pretty good fundraiser, especially with the recent cuts in the district’s athletic budget.
“We’re trying to keep things afloat,” Fruita Monument A.D. Denny Squibb said. “We’ve taken the approach that we don’t want to break the bank trying to get them up there.
“We wanted something affordable to them to see the game and enjoy the experience. If we can get a few dollars off it and get some corporate people to help sponsor the food, that’s beneficial.”
Pollert said money his school raises from the hospitality room will go into the football budget.
“That allows me to have money to share with other teams,” he said.
He’ll take what the hospitality room nets and put it into football, sliding that amount out of what was earmarked for football to boost budgets for softball, swimming, cross country, track, etc.
When spring rolls around, there’s the option of having baseball nights in the hospitality level, which could be popular on chilly spring evenings.
Some fans have already started planning for next football season.
“According to some of the moms, they’re talking about next year,” Pollert said. “One group already wants to have their 50- or 60-year reunion up there.”