Downtown stadium proposal pitched to city council

By Bob Stephens – January 12, 2018

Antlers Park
Rendering courtesy of Nick Ragain

Local hotelier and restaurateur Perry Sanders told city council members during a two-hour work session on Monday that they need to apply “common sense” when deciding on a proposal he’s championing to put a sports stadium and indoor events center at what is now Antlers Park, which sits directly to the west of Sanders’ Antlers hotel.

Sanders, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC owner Ed Ragain and Springs businessman Charles Ochs are working together on the plan and say the facilities, which would remain a city park, would not only host professional soccer games and events about 40 times during the summer, but could also accommodate youth soccer tournaments, concerts, various outdoor events, and college and youth sports including basketball, volleyball and lacrosse.

Ragain even suggested that Colorado College and Air Force could meet in an outdoor hockey game at the stadium.

“Antlers Park is basically ‘Heroin Central’ right now or something like it,” Sanders told the Business Journal. “It’s full of needles, feces and garbage and it’s mostly used by the homeless. I say we can turn it from a passive area into a wide-open active place that is like Bear Creek Park on steroids.

“We can bring in 8,000 to 10,000 people to events and create a tremendous amount of sales tax revenue from local businesses, mainly restaurants and hotels. It could have a huge impact on the food and beverage industry.”

He suggested that part of city sales tax revenue from the facility could be used to address the homeless issue in the region.

Sanders said those benefiting the most from the downtown stadium would be restaurants and the hotel industry, and suggested the city could further benefit by slightly raising the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, which combines a 2 percent lodgers tax with a 1 percent auto rental tax.

In 2013, the City of Champions proposal was formally approved by the Colorado Economic Development Commission and included four projects: the Olympic Museum, the Air Force Academy Visitor Center, the UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center, and a downtown stadium and events center. The commission approved full tax-increment funding via the Regional Tourism Act for an estimated $120 million to help finance and develop City for Champions, which was designed to enhance the area’s tourism.

Sanders and Ragain argued that a decision from council must come quickly in order for design work to be completed in time to break ground in December and still qualify for about $27.7 million of that C4C tax-increment funding.

“We’re trying to save the [C4C] money, fix the park and give the people of Colorado Springs a place that they can use,” Sanders said.

Councilor Don Knight suggested that the C4C deadline “is so soft you can drive a truck through it,” although he added that he would not count on an extension.

Sanders said other benefits to the stadium being at Antlers Park include the adjacent parking garage and a $5 million loading dock at The Antlers hotel, which he would make available for use.

The 2,000-seat indoor events center could be located to the west of Antlers Park where the old train depot owned by Ochs is located, or would better be at the south end of the 3.3-acre park, said architect Andy Barnard, principal at Perkins+Will, who is working on potential designs.

Council President Richard Skorman, who is a downtown businessman, expressed his support for the stadium and events center.

“I’d hate to lose this opportunity,” he said, adding that there are no other proposals for a stadium to use the C4C money. “Right now it’s a place for the homeless, with no plan.”

There are a couple of stumbling blocks, although city council could ignore them.

One is that Colorado Springs City Attorney Wynetta Massey, in an opinion dated Aug. 31, said Antlers Park cannot be modified, due to the wishes of Springs founding father Gen. William Palmer, who donated the land to the city.

Councilor Tom Strand said that council can follow the city attorney’s guidance, “but we do not have to follow it and our arms or hands are not tied by it.”

League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak region spokesperson Marcy Morrison sent city council an email protesting the stadium proposal, arguing that is goes against Palmer’s stated wishes.

City councilors said they will have a closed-door meeting within the next few weeks to discuss legalities.

Another stumbling block is the Early Connections Learning Center, a day care next to the park. Sanders said those involved in the project would build a better day care center at a different location.

He also argued that altering Antlers Park has been done before, both to build the day care center and to construct the Wells Fargo building that sits at the corner of Colorado Avenue and Tejon Street.

“When the city chooses to alter the park, they have done it,” Sanders said.

A PowerPoint presentation given to council by Switchbacks President Nick Ragain, Ed’s son, was entitled “In Regards to Antlers Park, What Would General Palmer Do?”

Sanders argued that Palmer would prefer a stadium and indoor events center that serves the public, as opposed to the current park adjacent to The Antlers hotel.

Long ago, the park provided a busy go-between from the railroad depot to the famous hotel, he said. Now, the parking garage cuts off the park from the downtown area.

And Ochs, the depot’s owner, said his usual Saturday routine is picking up what Sanders continually referred to as “needles, feces and garbage” at the park.

City Economic Development Manager Bob Cope said he is concerned about the legal issue and hasn’t explored the proposal enough from an economic development standpoint. Still, he said of the proposal: “From what I see, there is a lot to be excited about.”