Rendering courtesy of Nick Ragain
Rendering courtesy of Nick Ragain

If an outdoor stadium and indoor events center is built on the site of Antlers Park, the consensus seems to be that it would become an economic driver for downtown Colorado Springs. The question is whether city officials will allow alterations to the park.

Colorado Springs City Council met in closed executive session Wednesday with City Attorney Wynetta Massey, to discuss the legal issue of whether council has the authority to vote on the proposed stadium and events center for Antlers Park.

Massey issued an opinion Aug. 31 that said Antlers Park cannot be modified, due to the wishes of Springs founding father Gen. William Palmer, who donated the land to the city.

Council members said they have the authority to decide the issue, but wanted clarification from Massey. City Council President Richard Skorman called it a “gray area.”

Council did not make an announcement following the executive session, but did choose to add the proposed stadium and events center to its agenda for the Jan. 23 public meeting, when a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote will be taken to decide whether city staff should continue to explore the proposal.

For decades, the city has wondered what to do with Antlers Park, which has become a homeless haven. The 3.3-acre park, which is northeast of Colorado Avenue and Sierra Madre Street, sits directly west of The Antlers hotel, but is walled off from the downtown area by a large parking garage.

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Antlers hotel co-owner Perry Sanders, who also owns The Famous steakhouse, Johnny Martin’s Car Club, the Gold Room and The Mining Exchange hotel downtown, hosted a town hall meeting Jan. 15 in one of the hotel’s ballrooms to discuss the proposal, which is a joint venture between Sanders, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC owner Ed Ragain and Springs businessman Charles Ochs, who owns the historic train depot across from Antlers Park.

About 80 people showed up at the town hall, with a few opposing the stadium idea. But most who spoke or asked questions were supportive.

“The park hasn’t been usable in years,” Amnet founder and CEO Trevor Dierdorff told the Business Journal. “They took the train out that was so cool. The homeless populate it 24/7, and I don’t think anyone feels safe walking through or past it. Something has to be done, and if this is part of that solution, then great.

“I think it would be a good economic driver for our city, particularly if we could get the [National Governing Bodies of sports] that are [headquartered in Colorado Springs] to hold their annual championships here. That would drive people here.”

Timing is key

At stake is $27.7 million in tax-increment funding, which was approved by the Colorado Economic Development Corporation in 2013 for the Springs’ City for Champions concept that included four projects: the Olympic Museum, the Air Force Academy Visitor Center, the UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center, and a downtown stadium and indoor events center.

To get that funding, the deadline to break ground on the stadium and events center is Dec. 13. Dierdorff, the former El Paso County Republican Party chairman, said many of his political friends are against using the C4C money.

“Generally, Republicans believe, and generally I believe, that a project like this, if there’s a market for it, the market will provide,” he said. “And that it shouldn’t have to be built with government subsidy dollars. I also think it’s a little bit different to invest in your community versus the waste we see at the federal and state level. Frankly, I don’t mind investing in making my town a little bit better place and having the government help make that happen.”

Sanders said for every tree that is cut down in the park to build the stadium, 10 more would be planted elsewhere. He also suggested adding a “tax” on people who come to the soccer games or other events to help educate and house the city’s homeless population.

“I think it would be a good economic driver for our city …” 

— Trevor Dierdorff

Sanders has other potential investors besides Ochs and Ragain, who would lease the stadium for Switchbacks games. He said the city-owned stadium — which could host concerts and various events, while also being used by citizens — could have as many as 14,000 seats, although it’s projected in the 8,000-10,000 range.

The indoor events center would have about 2,000 seats.

Mike Tozier, who has lived in the Springs since 1953, publicly opposed the stadium at the town hall. He said he’s seen urban renewal replace many of downtown’s historic buildings and wants the park to remain a green space.

“The park was given to the citizens of Colorado Springs in perpetuity,” he said. “If they start breaking that trust … Garden of the Gods [Park] is under that same trust. Are they going to build an arena in front of Garden of the Gods?”