Time to Hit a Home Run in Downtown Colorado Springs

The controversy surrounding the proposal to relocate the Colorado Springs Sky Sox’s stadium has become a misguided battle between perception and reality. The impression many citizens seem to have is that Mayor Steve Bach is a puppet of some very powerful property and land developers. Hence, this line of reasoning suggests that the stadium shouldn’t be relocated at all, under any circumstances. On the other hand, a few noteworthy benefits include economic improvements to the area, changes to the actual game itself, and a visual change to an area of town many agree is in serious need of renovation. I should add that the current location of the proposed stadium is ideal due to the proximity to restaurants and homes.

Historically, new baseball teams like the Colorado Rockies take years to accumulate a sustainable generational fan base. Granted, Security Service Field, the Sky Sox’s current home, is located in one of the fastest growing easterly corridors in Colorado Springs, but this growth is due mostly to the off-base housing opportunities for military families. Generally, these families stay three to five years, then move on to other duty stations. The perception that the stadium is ideally located comes from a majority of citizens living within close proximity to the stadium. However, those located more westerly in the city have nearly an hour’s drive to watch the game or attend events. With this in mind, long-term Springs residents should consider it unwise for our city to make economic strategies based mainly on the influence of the transient military community. Centrally locating the stadium would allow for a more diverse, loyal, and localized fan base.

This past June, the city of Colorado Springs hired Summit Economics to analyze the market and economic impact generated from the relocation of the Sky Sox stadium to downtown Colorado Springs. According to the report, “the west central downtown area has substantial redevelopment potential.” This claim has been gaining traction for a while. For instance, the Urban Land Institute Panel proposed this strategy last summer. The report submitted to the city also included a mock-up of events the new stadium would have to host in order to remain financially viable. As it stands today, Security Service Field sporadically hosts events beyond the baseball season. Many who are actively dedicated to the revitalization of Downtown argue that the new stadium should not only host the Sky Sox, but it should also be used as a multi-use facility, to include hosting a variety of UCCS events, which would, in turn, facilitate UCCS’s evolution into a nationally renowned university.

In terms of pure economics, expanding the fan base will create new, often permanent, jobs. Summit Economics estimated that nearly 224 new jobs would result from the relocation of the stadium. They also suggest that approximately 440 direct jobs and another 221 indirect jobs would be created during the year-long construction phase of this project. This helps to lower the unemployment rate within the city and increase city tax revenues. In a city facing tremendous shortfalls in revenue, increasing revenue should be at the top of the City Council’s “to do” list.

As previously mentioned, this isn’t the first time revitalization has been proposed. In fact, the area where the city plans on relocating the stadium was declared the urban renewal site 12 years ago by City Council, according to an article in the Gazette. The proposed area, southwest Downtown, remains a light industrial area to this day. It is underdeveloped with a bad reputation, often associated with homelessness and crime. The city should zone the area to encourage mixed-use development while providing strict design guidelines for rehabilitation and new construction. Projects should go through an architectural design review, which would allow the area to retain its historic character but add a beautiful modern visual aesthetic to Downtown.  To stimulate this much-needed reality, local businesses should be offered incentives for relocating or expanding their operations within the revitalization area to encourage local economic growth.

Likewise, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Security Service Field is beginning to show its age. Renovations to the stadium have cost the Rockies franchise millions. According to a recent Gazette article, Sky Sox General Manager and President Tony Ensor said this about Security Service Field: “It’s not the newest stadium and it may not have all the modern amenities, but we own the stadium and have invested $8 million-$9 million in improvements. We have said all along that a downtown stadium would have to benefit the overall community, the Sky Sox and UCCS. If they can figure that out, we would definitely listen to the idea but everything is just discussions now.” Is it smart to continue spending millions to maintain the safety of the current (and old) stadium, or should our community support the construction of a better, more efficient, multi-use stadium that would be centrally located?

Lastly, Security Service Field serves as an “un-field” advantage to the Rockies organization in its current location since it bears the distinction of being the highest elevated professional baseball field in North America. The elevation at the current location is 6,531 feet above sea level, nearly 1,000 feet higher than Coors Field in Denver where the Rockies play. Any fan knows how altitude affects baseball performance, but Security Service adds another dimension to that. With the open-air wind driving the ball at such heights, the Rockies pitching coaches have a terrible time estimating how prospective pitchers throw a home game. The open-air effect is due largely to the lack of major structures nearby on the prairie location of Security Service Field. The higher elevation and lack of surrounding structures also affect the distance the ball travels after being hit. Physicist Robert K. Adair estimated that a 440-foot fly ball hit at sea level would travel forty feet farther in Denver, meaning that the same ball would travel even farther at Security Service Field. The proposed location of Downtown would drop the elevation nearly 500 feet and closer simulate Coors Field conditions, providing a better evaluation metric for players at multiple positions.

A number of other issues not mentioned here deserve careful consideration. Would federal grant money cover the entire cost, for instance? How would the city of Colorado Springs cover any deficit associated with the move? Are other Downtown neighbors, such as UCCS, willing to take on any of the costs when they would benefit from the move? Regardless, each answer drives the ball Downtown.