Analysis

Analysis: Who will be first at bat?

5&6-inside-the-Park

Both Colorado Springs and Pueblo are trying to put together deals to build downtown sports/event facilities.

Political and business leaders as well as downtown advocates in each city have long yearned for such facilities.

It’s an article of faith among economic development advocates that such sports venues accelerate and sustain downtown economic revitalization. Yet they’re not easy to build. Financing must be assembled from private and public sources, sites identified and public support marshaled.

Will both cities build ballparks? Can we expect a festive intercity rivalry, with two southern Colorado professional baseball teams squaring off against each other every summer?

That depends upon the strength and skills of the city teams that are trying to put the ball in play. In baseball parlance, Pueblo has runners on second and third, no outs, and the heart of the lineup coming to bat, while Colorado Springs has no hits, no runs and no one on the team bus.

Colorado Springs

In 2012, then-Mayor Steve Bach and a hastily convened group of business, political and nonprofit leaders put together “City for Champions,” four visitor-oriented projects aimed at corralling state sales tax increment funding under the Regional Tourism Act. One of the projects, originally conceived as a downtown baseball stadium, morphed into a downtown sports/event facility that would include both a multipurpose outdoor stadium and a sketchily outlined events venue. That was a consequence of Sky Sox owner Dave Elmore’s reluctance to move the team from Powers Boulevard to downtown.

In 2013, City for Champions qualified for $124 million in state tax incremental financing, with 24 percent (approximately $28 million) earmarked for the sports/event facility. The state commitment will expire on Dec. 18, 2018, unless substantial work has begun.

That now seems unlikely. While Mayor John Suthers has commissioned a feasibility study from HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting, the proposed structure presently has no committed funding from local public or private sources. There’s no ownership or management group and no project website. The once-lively City for Champions website hasn’t been updated since July 2016.

Meanwhile, Elmore is negotiating with San Antonio elected officials about moving the Sky Sox to a proposed downtown stadium.

“I see a downtown baseball stadium as one component of a revitalized downtown,” said San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor at a 2016 press conference. “A place where families can walk to ballgames or office workers can meet at the end of the day. A place where kids can play while their grandparents watch the game, anchored along our beautiful, reimagined San Pedro Creek.”

But not everybody in that bustling city of 1.4 million shares Taylor’s enthusiasm.

“Elmore has no interest in paying a share of the $75 million for a new downtown ballpark,” according to an editorial in the Rivard Report, a nonprofit San Antonio news site. “Sure, he’ll take a free stadium and upgrade the market from Double-A to Triple-A, but what does that really do for San Antonio’s economy and job base?”

The Rivard Report characterized baseball as “a last-century sport,” recommending that city leaders opt for soccer instead.

Pueblo

Last July, the CSBJ reported on Pueblo architect Gary Anzuini’s suggestion that the 13-acre site of Pueblo’s long-shuttered 1924 power station would be ideal for a downtown baseball stadium.

“We’d love to get a Class A or short-season [rookie league] team,” said Anzuini at the time, pitching his unlikely concept. “We’re not Colorado Springs — we couldn’t support Triple-A. But we’d have something unique. We’d be the only baseball stadium in the country with an historic smokestack as one of the foul poles.”

As envisaged, the stadium would be a modest 3,500- to 5,000-seat facility, far smaller than the 10,000-seat behemoth proposed for Colorado Springs.

Since then, preservationists and baseball advocates have joined forces to embrace both the renovation of the downtown landmark and conversion of the site to a sports complex. In November, Pueblo voters approved a multi-year Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights override which let the county keep an estimated $66 million in revenue during the next 10 years, earmarked for specific projects. About $8 million was allocated to a downtown sports facility.

“I put together a revised site plan relocating the field somewhat,” said Anzuini, “and checked the footprint to make sure a soccer/lacrosse field will fit as it will be a multipurpose facility.”

On Jan. 23, the Pueblo City Council deferred indefinitely plans to demolish the power station, and empowered a planning team to create a development plan for the site. The team includes site owner Black Hills Energy, the Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority, the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, Pueblo County and the adjacent Historic Arkansas Riverwalk.

Pueblo, it appears, has everything that Colorado Springs doesn’t: a spectacular site, community-buy in, voter-approved funding and a powerful coalition of city leaders leading the push for redevelopment.

“Rarely is a community faced with such an incredible opportunity,” wrote Denver historic preservationist Dana Crawford in the Pueblo Chieftain. “The preservation of an historically significant and architecturally stunning building, the redevelopment of an environmentally challenged site into a sports complex to be experienced and enjoyed by the entire community and the availability of funding to make the project a reality.”

And in the Springs?

“Anything is achievable with community support,” said Colorado Springs city councilor Bill Murray, a longtime critic of the proposed funding structure of the downtown sports/events center. “What a novel thought — to ask the community to support the project.”

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