Springs shelves ballpark proposal

COLORADO SPRINGS — A proposal for a $92 million ballpark, sports complex and events center in downtown Colorado Springs appears dead, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said this week.

The project was a central piece of Colorado Springs’ state Regional Tourism Act plan.

The plan also includes a U.S. Olympic Museum, an Air Force Academy visitor center and a sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Planning and fundraising on those continue.

Going forward, Suthers said, the city may seek to shift state sales tax money pledged for the sports complex to a new proposal: the building of a downtown aircraft museum and meeting center.

Suthers remarks’ came after an outside study found the sports complex would need about $28 million in local public financing to help build it, which, he said, makes it unacceptable to be included as one of the city’s Regional Tourism Act projects.

Suthers said he wouldn’t rule out the complex from ever being built — it could one day be part of a private sector commercial development, for example — but he doesn’t support paying for it with local public money when the city has hundreds of millions of dollars in stormwater and other public improvement needs.

“There’s a gap in funding that local tax dollars would have to make up and I just don’t see that happening,” Suthers said.

Initially, the project called for a minor league baseball stadium. But private investment and public support for that project was limited and Colorado Springs Sky Sox fans objected to moving the team from its current stadium. Project backers later revised the ballpark into a multipurpose sports and event center.

Operators of the aircraft museum at Colorado Springs airport, which opened in 2012, say they’re open to taking the place of the project, Suthers said. They envision an 86,000-square-foot $32 million museum, education and event space near the planned Olympic museum.

Swapping one for the other wouldn’t be easy.

Colorado lawmakers first would have to amend the state’s Regional Tourism Act to allow communities to substitute projects, Suthers said.

Colorado Springs also would have to ask the state Economic Development Commission to amend its December 2013 funding application and show how the aircraft museum project would be novel and a significant draw for out-of-state tourists, which the state has said are the key requirements to qualify for state sales tax support through the tourism program.