Of the four components in the City for Champions proposal, the downtown stadium concept has emerged as the least popular.
Skeptical City Councilors have cast doubt on the facility’s estimated cost ($92.7 million), its optimistic attendance projections (781,000 by its fifth year) and its financial structure (100 percent from public sources).
In the original proposal last summer, the downtown stadium was the sport-specific new home of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox minor-league baseball franchise. The team’s wary management never specifically committed to the project, while northeast residents strongly opposed any move.
Faced with opposition, C4C proponents turned on a dime and reconfigured the stadium.
The new “Colorado Sports and Events Center” is very different from initial plans. It’s much more expensive ($92.7 million vs. $60.5 million) and is designed to accommodate sports other than baseball.
Not the right match
The omission was deliberate. In the third-party analysis of the original proposal, commissioned by the Colorado Economic Development Commission, it was noted that a downtown baseball stadium would not conform to the basic requirements for funding under the Regional Tourism Act.
Projects funded by the RTA must demonstrate that they can and will attract new out-of-state visitors who otherwise might not have come to Colorado. The spending of such visitors creates new tax revenue, creating a so-called tax increment. Under state law, a small portion of that increment can be used to support debt to help construct eligible projects.
While downtown baseball stadiums have been successful in peer cities such as Reno and Albuquerque, they draw few out-of-state patrons. Compared to the other three projects (the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, UCCS Sports Medicine Center and Air Force Academy Visitors Center), the baseball stadium was an albatross, especially when the Sky Sox didn’t jump on the bandwagon.
Proponents were faced with a dilemma. Absent the stadium, it was difficult to justify the construction of $51.5 million in southwest downtown infrastructure improvements. Funding might be found for the Olympic Museum, but private backers might look askance at locating the iconic facility in a blighted industrial neighborhood with little prospect of complementary development.
The Colorado Sports and Events Center doesn’t specifically exclude baseball use, but it’s not baseball-friendly. Instead of a cozily retro downtown baseball stadium modeled on Wrigley Field or Camden Yards, the newly conceived stadium will be “a multi-use facility accommodating Olympic sports and outdoor sports such as soccer, baseball, rugby, lacrosse and others.”
The original proposal projected stabilized attendance at year five totaling 778,060. That number grows to 781,060 in the new proposal. The real difference is in the projected total of net new out-of-state visitors, which has more than doubled from 51,000 to 124,329.
Backers project that many Olympic-related events previously staged in other venues will migrate to Colorado Springs if such a facility is made available. They also expect several major non-Olympic events to come here, such as the X Games or the Mountain Dew Tour.
Analyzing the numbers
Are these numbers reasonable? The state’s third-party analyst, Denver-based Economic and Planning Systems, which dissected the numbers in the first proposal, didn’t think so.
“The existing Sky Sox stadium draws approximately 350,000 annual attendance,” EPS noted, “and the new stadium is estimated by the Applicant to draw 672,000 by 2019 when it is assumed to reach a stabilized operating year. The Applicant has estimated that the new stadium will be able to draw more visitors because of its higher visibility closer to I-25, iconic architecture, and overall improved visitor experience. The Applicant did not provide any data on comparable new stadiums in the Midwestern or Western U.S., although there have been several built in the last 10 to 15 years. Instead, the Applicant relies on a statistical analysis of locational attributes … and arrives at 672,000 visitors in a stabilized year.”
The new proposal is less substantial than the original. It starts at zero, not 350,000. The stadium has no anchor tenant and thus no guaranteed events. A proposed minor-league soccer team, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, may fill some dates, and events such as the Rocky Mountain State Games may use the venue.
|Total Visitors||Total Out-of-state||Percentage Out-of-state|
|Sports Medicine Center||54,400||26,400||48%|
|AFA Visitors Center||800,000||176,300||22%|
But for the Sports and Events Center to reach its lofty goal, the complex will have to surpass the recent combined yearly attendance of Air Force football, Sky Sox baseball and Colorado College hockey.
Last year, the Sky Sox attracted 326,374 fans to 71 home games; 228,562 filled the seats for seven games at Falcon Stadium, and CC’s Tigers drew 132,607 to 19 games at the World Arena.
That “big three” drew a combined total of 684,543 — almost 100,000 fewer than the stadium and events center is projected to attract.
The arithmetic is daunting. With a capacity of 10,000 spectators, it appears that the main stadium will need to sell out most summer weekends to meet projections. The adjacent multi-use indoor facility, seating up to 3,000 people, will have to be just as busy, welcoming small- to medium-sized indoor events of all kinds throughout the year.
“I’m comfortable with the numbers,” said Paul Rochette of Summit Economics, who worked on the proposal. “I’m not saying privately, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done this’ or ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’ ”
Rochette explained the process.
“You start with the idea,” he said. “You look at the concept [a stadium/events center tailored to Olympic-related users]. You draw it up, try to flesh it out, and then you move to qualitative research. How many NGBs [national governing bodies] are there? How many are in Colorado Springs? How many events do they sponsor? How many can we reasonably expect to get?”
Once you have some tentative numbers, you look farther afield.
“There are 4,000 sports associations in the United States,” he pointed out. “Four hundred of them have the word ‘national’ in their name. Would they be interested in having an event here? If we had such a facility, might some of them eventually move here?”
The most vital factor
Major national multi-day events might be infrequent, but the most important metric, Rochette emphasized, is the one sought by the Colorado Economic Development Commission: net new out-of-state visitors.
That’s not entirely a function of venue attendance. For any NGB-sponsored event, anywhere from several dozen to several hundred athletes and coaches, often accompanied by family members, will come to town.
“All of them are here for the specific event,” Rochette explained. “None would be here without it.”
Those visitors will spend money and help generate the economic growth that the EDC and project backers expect. So even if the attendance estimates are inflated, the number of new visitors will determine project success.
Next step: specific quantitative analysis.
“For example, we’ll call every NGB and national association,” said Rochette, “and learn about their events and plans in as much detail as possible. We can’t ask for commitments — we need to know that the facility will be built before that can happen.”
Will the estimates change as more information is available?
“We think they’re good numbers,” he said, “but we need to advance.”
Tough conditions to meet
To advance, they’ll need some early commitments; the Regional Tourism Act funding comes with conditions, as set forth by the state commission:
“Before any use of RTA funds can be spent on the Colorado Sports and Event Center, the facility must sign and provide letters of intent, memorandums of understanding, contractual agreements or other similar documents to host at least 20 Pre-Olympic and amateur sporting events such as Olympic Time Trials, Qualifiers, Playoffs and World Championship events that will draw participants from outside Colorado or other events and meetings associated with the Olympic Sports National Governing Bodies for each of the first two years of Project operations. At least 10 of these events each year must be new to the State of Colorado meaning that they have not been previously hosted in Colorado within 5 years prior to the opening of the CSEC.”
Stripped of legalese and bureaucratese, the message is clear.
Put up or shut up.