After nearly five years of failed initiatives, foot-dragging, shilly-shallying and buck-passing, city leaders finally announced plans for the downtown Colorado Springs Sports and Event Center, once the gleaming centerpiece of the 2013 City for Champions project.
The big reveal took place in the vast empty space that was once billed as the CityGate Urban Renewal Area, a dirt field that never even served as a parking lot. Before an enthusiastic crowd that included local dignitaries, downtown power players, journalists and project partners, Mayor John Suthers described the deal.
Before hearing the details, I was skeptical. The C4C agreement with the state requires that “significant progress” be made on the deals that will receive funding within five years after executing the original agreement. Since the agreement was inked in December 2013, that doesn’t leave much time.
No worries, according to city officials, the new partnership agreement represents significant progress, and the state is sure to agree!
To my surprise, I think they’re right. This is a dream deal, one in which three robust financial partners have teamed up with the city (well, the state if everything works out, but let’s not be too picky) to make the deal happen.
The 10,000-seat Switchbacks stadium, to be constructed on the north side of the property, will cost about $20 million. The Switchbacks will pay $10 million of the cost, and $10 million will come from long-term bonds supported by state tax-increment funding authorized by the Regional Tourism Act. Weidner Apartment Homes, a part-owner of the Switchbacks, will build a $40 million mixed use residential and commercial development on the south side of the CityGate property (no RTA money will be involved).
Currently ranked No. 17 among owners and No. 27 among managers on the National Multi-Housing Council’s top-50 list of apartment management companies, Weidner owns more than 46,000 units throughout the United States and Canada. Founded in 1977 by Colorado Springs native Dean Weidner, the privately held company is clearly a deep-pocketed, highly credible partner. The company already owns a couple of complexes in Colorado Springs, where they have done business for many years.
The 3,000-seat CC facility, originally slated as a practice rink with seating for a few hundred spectators, has been expanded to a real arena, a multipurpose facility comparable to those that most small colleges with Division 1 hockey teams already offer. Its projected cost: $39 million, including $30 million from the college and $9.2 million from C4C.
Assuming that the state accepts the city’s definition of “substantial progress,” are there any inherent problems that could kill the deal? What about parking?
“There are thousands of spaces in parking structures within a few blocks of the proposed Switchbacks stadium,” city economic development boss Bob Cope noted. “And there may be another parking structure associated with the Olympic Museum.”
With only 3,000 seats, CC’s indoor facility poses less of a parking challenge.
“For hockey games, probably 500 of the seats will be taken by CC students,” said Sean Pieri, CC’s vice president for advancement. “We also have some parking on campus, and North End residents can just walk to games.”
On a bitterly cold January day? I dunno, but I look forward to going to games in a noisy, intimate, packed-to-the-rafters venue.
And what about that dreary, pollution-emitting, amazingly unsightly neighbor a few hundred yards to the west? Will city council finally end its long love affair with the Drake Power Plant? Yes, said Council President Richard Skorman.
“We can shut it down by 2023 — or even as soon as 2021,” he stated. “There’s 40 acres of land there.”
As the reveal ended, the crowd was cheerful and celebratory. I asked Chris Jenkins, whose family company is partnering with Griffis-Blessing to build two major downtown apartment projects, whether he welcomed the competition from Weidner Homes.
“Absolutely!” he said. “We’ll need more apartments than any one company can build.”
The two venues may open as soon as 2020. I hate to be unreasonably optimistic about all this, but I do have some advice for all of you sports fans out there: Sign up for your Switchbacks/CC Hockey season tickets now!