Build It Downtown, and Sky Sox Fans Will Come

“Is this Heaven?”
“No, it’s Iowa.”

Most any baseball fan will immediately recognize the quote above from the iconic movie Field of Dreams. Remember when a reanimated Shoeless Joe Jackson looks back across a beautiful baseball field in Iowa farm country and asks Ray Kinsella that loaded question? No doubt, this moment speaks to the trials and tribulations that go along with rescripting one’s past and actualizing a dream, not just for oneself, but for everyone who feels the same urge.

But let’s not forget that Field of Dreams is as much about baseball as anything else. To many of us, baseball is more than just a game. The stadium, the grass, the paint, the leather gloves – the entire spectacle is like watching an accomplished orchestra play a lush symphony to the senses. You don’t just go to a game, you become part of it. Once immersed in your seat, you get lost in the sights, sounds, and rhythms of the stadium, and the two or three hours you spend there seem like minutes. You find yourself wanting that feeling to last forever. I think this is what Joe and Ray are really saying to each other.

The Mile High City gives evidence to this claim. As you leave Coors Field after a game, Lower Downtown (LoDo) Denver springs to life. A once decaying and dangerous place filled with abandoned buildings now bustles with vibrant locals and tourists alike enjoying endless entertainment alternatives. A single baseball stadium stood as the economic cornerstone to revitalizing the lower downtown area of Denver, starting nearly 20 years ago. The faithful flocked to the Church of the National Pastime, and the change began. Early discussions on the naming of the newly formed Rockies began with wanting to ensure that all of Colorado’s baseball faithful patrons considered themselves equal partners in a cultural shareholding. Thus, the “Colorado” Rockies were born, and Denver’s culture, architecture, and reputation improved noticeably.

In a similar manner, the relocation of Security Service Field, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox’s home field, could be the cornerstone the city needs to lay the foundation of revitalization. The Rockies, despite a mediocre success rate on the field, still manage to draw more than the National League average for attendance. LoDo offers those fans after a great win, or a tough loss, a place for the flock to gather and extend their camaraderie. Unfortunately, the surrounding area of Security Service Field remains largely docile during and after the games. No nearby local corner bars, small restaurants, or other businesses welcome baseball patrons after the 9th inning. Sky Sox fans have only a long drive home to look forward to.

Moving Security Service Field to downtown Colorado Springs would give fans and local small business access to each other, thus supporting local business and building a generational fan base for the local minor league baseball team. Recently, the City of Colorado Springs hired Summit Economics to examine the situation. The firm specializes in empirical research and rigorous analysis to provide sound business decisions. Their report, Market & Economic Impacts of Relocating Sky Sox Stadium to Downtown Colorado Springs, notes, “Analysis of the AAA baseball stadiums shows that the most important factor driving attendance is if the stadium is located in a city’s downtown.” Total annual retail sales outside of the stadium would grow by around 5%. The following passage from the report offers data and reasoning that explain the value of relocation:

The economic and fiscal impacts for Colorado Springs as a result of the new stadium will be mainly driven by non-local visitors, since even if more residents of the City attend games, they may simply be switching their spending patterns. . . . Non-local spectators and participants would account for 156 . . . new jobs. The new jobs will create approximately $6 million in household earnings. Current hotel room night demand from spectators and participants . . . could increase to more than 13,600 as a result of a new downtown stadium. By the fourth year, annual new City sales tax revenue because of the stadium is projected to be over $275,000, with over 70% of it attributable to non-City residents. Total construction and development costs are expected to be approximately $60 million, creating 440 direct jobs and another 221 indirect jobs for the 1 year construction period, and over $1 million in City sales tax revenues.

Less quantifiable but very real is the stadium’s potential catalytic effect on Downtown Colorado Springs redevelopment and status as an attractive destination. MiLB stadiums have served a prominent role is such catalysis in many other downtowns nationwide.

While Summit Economics points out that the most important factor for increased attendance at AAA games and added revenue outside the stadium is a downtown stadium location, they also underscore the significance of close proximity to an interstate. Because of Security Service Field’s location, neither of these factors is met. And as for out-of-town visitors? Security Service Field has no serious marketing plan geared towards bringing in these out-of-towners.  The stadium’s current location makes it difficult to locate and unnoticeable from the major transportation corridors traveled by out-of-town visitors.

In a recent Colorado Springs Independent article, David Mullin points out that Security Service Field sits near the main growth paths of Colorado Springs, east along Woodmen Road and north along the Powers Boulevard corridor. However, this fast growth is due largely to the housing needs of military families stationed at the bases near those areas. These families do not provide the Sky Sox with a generational fan base as most military families spend three to five years at a particular duty station then move on. Relying solely on the transient military community to grow and sustain our economy should be considered an unwise strategy. Colorado Springs must try to achieve economic stability without having to rely so heavily on federal defense money. A largely transient community, although providing needed federal dollars into the economy, does not play to the other strengths Colorado Springs has to offer.

It doesn’t take a marketing genius to also recognize that Colorado Springs’ greatest tourism draw lies in the western part of the city and corridors leading west. Think of Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak Highway, Seven Falls, Cave of the Winds, Manitou Springs, and on and on. All of these are located west of I-25 and at least worth a visit for many of those fans travelling to see a game. Conversely, those visiting these locations might very much enjoy watching a Downtown Sky Sox game to cap off a perfect day. As it stands, the additional drive time east to Security Service plays opposite Colorado Springs’ strengths and much needed tourism dollars. The slogan along the highway might read, “While you’re at it, come catch a game in Colorado Springs’ other ‘park’!”