DENVER (AP) Millions of Rockies fans have passed under the archway of the "Evolution of the Ball" on their way to Coors Field's Wynkoop Street entrance since the park opened in 1995. The 32-foot high by 42-foot wide sculpture features a giant steel baseball on railroad tracks that sit atop two columns which are adorned with 108 glazed, three-dimensional tiles depicting different types of baseballs.
But now, the "Evolution of the Ball" is entering the next stage of its own evolution.
Months of negotiations between artist Lonnie Hanzon, the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District and the Rockies led to a verbal agreement about what to do with the sculpture in wake of the club's massive West Lot project that's transforming the southwest corner of 20th and Wazee into a mixed-use entertainment district called McGregor Square.
But the statue won't be seen anytime soon due to complex architectural issues combined with artistic considerations. For now, it's in storage.
The iconic sculpture is penciled in to stay on the Wynkoop Walkway, close to its original home, with minimal alterations. The verbal agreement is a change from the original renderings of the project released by Stantec (the Rockies' architecture firm) in December 2017, which didn't feature the sculpture anywhere in the West Lot redesign.
"Building a 13-story building on that corner required the fire department be able to bring the fire truck up Wynkoop Walkway and make a turn," Rockies executive vice president/CFO Hal Roth said. "As such, we needed to move the arch somewhere else in order to put a fire lane there."
Hanzon, who called the sculpture the "most inspired, and most famous, piece of public art I've ever done", fought the move. He created a Facebook page, "Save Evolution of the Ball," to draw attention to the issue. He and his attorney met seven times with the Rockies and the stadium district officials from July through September a year ago, adamant that the sculpture not be moved.
"I was prickly in the beginning, and it's no secret that I was not accepting the previous locations the Rockies were offering me to move the sculpture to," Hanzon said. "It was taking away the function of the piece, which is a sculptural gateway to Coors Field, and it was destroying the integrity of the piece . Picking up and just plopping it someplace else destroys the value of the work."
At first, the Rockies proposed moving the sculpture to the walkway along 20th Street, just outside the main entrance to the ballpark. That's where the personalized bricks which formerly took the shape of a diamond in the Wynkoop Walkway have been moved.
"They were planning on turning the sculpture east-west and put it on that walkway, with the (giant steel) ball rolling into the stadium, which I think would be a really bad omen," Hanzon said. "Plus, the space was too small. That was the original relocation offer, and then there were (several) other locations offered around the outside of the ballpark. None of them fulfilled the function of the piece."
Roth and the Rockies, in conversations with Hanzon and via input in community meetings, realized the meaning of the statue to the Wynkoop Walkway. "Evolution of the Ball" was one of three public art pieces commissioned in the infancy of Coors Field along with "The Player" statue of Branch Rickey and the "Bottom of the Ninth" metal-and-neon wall relief.
"The fans expect it to be over there because it's become an iconic location for it," Roth said. "So we tempered our discussions (with Hanzon) he's the artist, this is his baby, and he's very taken with it. And he should be; he should be proud of it."
Roth said the Rockies paid for the dismantling of the sculpture in October, and the club will also foot the bill for the necessary retrofitting for the piece's new spot on the redesigned Wynkoop Walkway. As seen in Stantec's latest renderings, the sculpture will be moved north a little bit along the walkway and pushed up against the start of the pedestrian bridge above 20th Street.
The slight location change, necessary because of the fire lane as well as egress concerns, requires the arch of the piece to span a longer distance than before while also raising tactical questions on how to make the retrofit work.
"It's an engineering feat, because you have 20th Street coming across there so you've got structure underneath and you're also building an underground structure there," said stadium district spokesman Matt Sugar. "The devil's in the details and there's a lot of work to be done to accommodate that . but the Rockies really bent over backwards to try to figure out how to accommodate Lonnie's wishes."
And while Hanzon continues to mull over the creativity behind the sculpture's lengthening "perhaps the railroad ties are severed, and the ball is somehow supported but now suspended in the air," he mused the artist is hopeful he and the stadium district (which owns the piece and the land) will have their agreement cemented in writing in the next few months.
"If everybody keeps their promises, it will be a win all the way around," Hanzon said. "For the sculpture, for the Rockies and for the fans who can continue to enjoy it in the new development."