Of the four projects in the City for Champions package, the downtown stadium/events center may be the most puzzling.
While the Colorado Springs Sky Sox would appear to be the project’s major beneficiary and partner, officials of the organization have been cautiously noncommittal, noting several months ago they’re satisfied with their current Stetson Hills location and are observing the project’s progress with interest.
Sky Sox President Tony Ensor, in an interview this week, said the team would only consider moving if Colorado Springs residents and Sky Sox fans support the move to downtown. He also noted the project is at a relatively early stage, and that many issues remain unresolved.
Yet, the city’s application to the state for funding under provisions of the Regional Tourism Act claims that the club is committed, stating, “The Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the AAA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, will anchor the Downtown Stadium and Event Center with a highly visible presence.”
“They were supportive enough to move to the next level. They could have just put the kibosh on it then.”
– Tom Binnings,
“Until there is more clarity and certainty to the specifics,” Jenkins wrote in an email, “they need to keep their options open, and that sometimes means keeping quiet … if they were not interested, wouldn’t they just say so?”
Asked to comment on the $60 million project, City Councilor Andy Pico, whose district includes Security Service Field, the Sky Sox’ present home, was visibly miffed.
“I find it interesting that they’ve declined the courtesy of returning my calls,” said Pico, “They don’t even want to talk to me — so it’s a little tough for me to say anything but a flat no.”
The RTA application describes the stadium where the Sky Sox have played since 1988 as an “aging, outdated facility.” While acknowledging that attendance is good now (326,374 in 63 openings this year), the application cites limiting factors including lack of interstate highway access and low neighborhood population density.
Moving to a new stadium in the urban core would boost attendance, driven in part by “compelling architecture, better concession and seating options, and amenities such as unique downtown restaurants.”
That may be true, but no definitive deal has been announced. The application notes only that “The City and Colorado Springs Sky Sox will form the appropriate ownership entity for the Downtown Stadium and Event Center.”
Summit Economics, which prepared an economic impact analysis for the stadium, projected that events ranging from outdoor concerts (21,000 total attendees at seven concerts) to political forums (50 attendees each) could attract up to 176,000 residents and visitors.
UCCS professor Tom Binnings, also a partner at Summit Economics, helped prepare the analysis and said team officials cooperated with the process.
“They’ve got a great deal where they are,” he said, “but they were supportive enough (of the RTA proposal) to move to the next level. They could have just put the kibosh on it then.”
Among Summit’s conclusions: The stadium will create 224 new jobs and about $6 million in earnings; nearby hotel room-night demand could rise to more than 13,600; by the fourth year, new city sales tax revenue because of the stadium could surpass $275,000 annually, more than 70 percent from non-city residents. Also, construction would mean 440 direct jobs and another 221 indirect jobs for a 12-month period, and $1 million-plus in city sales tax.
Binnings says the projections for the city’s analysis are based on comparable cities that have replaced aging suburban minor-league facilities with new downtown stadiums.
“Ballparks appeal to a wide demographic — from creative class types to working class families,” writes Robert Steuteville in Better! Cities and Towns. “Minor-league stadiums offer less expensive tickets and concessions that are affordable to most families. These facilities offer another layer to downtown culture, which also includes music, theater, food, fine arts and architecture.”
But not all new ballparks provide an economic boost to surrounding areas.
“Generally, a lot of new ballparks aren’t all that great because team owners have a singular vision and architects don’t follow design principles beyond profits for the owner,” said Notre Dame professor Philip Bess, an expert on ballpark design.
The best ballparks, says Bess, citing Boston’s Fenway Park as an example, are located on constrained urban sites, not surrounded by acres of flat parking. Minor-league parks require less parking and can be inserted more easily into an existing urban fabric.
Security Service Field might be a good example of a ballpark with little impact upon the surrounding neighborhood.
“We looked into it (the economic impact),” said Binnings, “but didn’t pursue it. It’s a low-density area, the ballpark doesn’t have shared parking, so most (ballpark-related spending) is at the stadium.”
Although Summit was allowed to examine certain Sky Sox internal documents, Binnings says that information did not figure in the final report.
Alone among the city’s four planned projects, the stadium/events center would receive no private funding. Its $60.6 million cost would be covered by $18.2 million in sales tax increment funding and $42.4 million from other public sector sources, perhaps including the Downtown Development Authority, Urban Renewal Authority, improvement districts and/or bonding.
Along with the proposed Olympic museum, the stadium would benefit from $51 million in infrastructure upgrades proposed for southwest downtown. These improvements, if funded with $19.8 million in sales tax funds and $31.2 million from other public sources, include a 1,500-space parking garage, utility upgrades, a pedestrian bridge to America the Beautiful Park and streetscape improvements.
Having accepted the city’s application, the state is evaluating the project. Qualifying projects must be large-scale regional tourism projects that are of an extraordinary and unique nature, are anticipated to result in a substantial increase in out-of-state tourism, and generate a significant portion of sales tax revenue from transactions with nonresidents of the regional tourism zone.
The local government must provide reliable economic data demonstrating that without RTA approval, the project is not reasonably anticipated to be developed within the foreseeable future.
After analysis by staff of the state Economic Development Commission and an independent third-party consultant, several outcomes are possible.
The application may be accepted as presented, and recommended for final approval by the Commission’s nine-member board.
The application may be accepted in part, or recommended funding levels may fall well short of the $82.5 million requested by the city.
The application may be rejected outright.
Alone among the four projects, the ballpark has sparked rancorous debate and fierce opposition. This week, a majority of City Council declined to endorse “the vision and concept” of City for Champions.
Councilmember Joel Miller, who opposed voting on the resolution, had encouraged his constituents to weigh in on a Facebook post. A torrent of emails resulted, many negative.
“I haven’t seen anyone on the east side who supports this deal,” said Councilor Pico. “There’s a lot of opposition. Downtown development should not be at the expense of the outlying districts, so it’s a non-starter for me.”
City Councilor Jill Gaebler, who introduced the proposed resolution, acknowledged that a majority of her constituents currently oppose the new stadium. She believes that Council nevertheless should endorse the application.
“We just look like a bickering community that can’t even work together on transformational concepts,” she said.
Jan Martin, who with Councilors Val Snider and Merv Bennett supported the resolution, said, “It’s a little disheartening, isn’t it? But we know how politics works in Colorado Springs.”