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Build a ballpark and they will come, study says

By: monica mendoza
June 27, 2013 Updated: June 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm

A downtown Sky Sox baseball stadium would be an economic grand slam for Colorado Springs, local economists say in a report scheduled for release this month.

A downtown baseball stadium would put about $332,000 a year in sales tax revenue into the city's coffers; create 224 jobs; increase tourism; and bump up downtown retail sales by 16 percent on game days and 5 percent overall per year, says a report by Summit Economics, a Colorado Springs research firm.

Mayor Steve Bach hired the firm to find out if moving the Sky Sox baseball stadium from its eastside location, at Tutt Boulevard and Barnes Road, to downtown would be worth the risk - an estimated $60 million venture.

Summit Economics believes it is.

"There has been a lot of talk that yes, the Major League Baseball stadiums downtown have a big impact on attendance," said Tom Binnings, Summit economist and co-author of the report. "But I was surprised at the magnitude of the impact on AAA attendance; we are forecasting a 45 percent increase in attendance if the Sky Sox move downtown."

Summit studied 49 minor league baseball teams that moved their stadiums between 1991 and 2011 and found 48 of the stadiums saw, on average, a 66 percent increase in attendance.

The Sky Sox team already plays in front of crowds of 4,400 per game and has one of the fastest growing attendance records of the 30 minor league teams. If it played ball downtown, the Sky Sox could see attendance as high as 6,600 per game, Binnings said. And, the increase in fans could come from out of town.

Summit's research shows that more people attend baseball games when the stadiums are downtown, Binnings said. In 2010, attendance was about 1,370 higher per game in downtown baseball stadiums than in stadiums outside of downtown.

The numbers add up to an increase in sales tax revenue, said Paul Rochette, Summit economist and co-author of the report. Now, about 3,400 hotel room nights are in demand from Sky Sox spectators - these are people who come to Colorado Springs on vacation and because there is a Sky Sox game stay one more night, Rochette said. A downtown stadium could increase room night demand to 13,600 per baseball season and pump in about $130,000 annually to the Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax fund.

But the biggest discovery about AAA downtown stadiums was the amount of jobs it creates, Rochette said. Summit projects the stadium would create 440 jobs to build the ball park but create 224 direct and indirect permanent jobs.

"About two thirds of that increase in new jobs comes from dollars that wouldn't be here except for the new stadium," he said.

A downtown stadium has been in the city's dreams for more than a decade, said Chris Melcher, city attorney. Now, it's part of a bigger downtown revitalization proposal the city plans to make with the state. A group of civic leaders and city officials are preparing an application for millions in state tourism dollars for projects they say could transform the city, including a U.S. Olympic Museum, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs medical complex on North Nevada Avenue, an Air Force Academy visitor center outside of the base gates and the downtown multi-use stadium.

Bach hired Summit, at $40,000, to include the study's findings in the city's application to the state, which is a Regional Tourism Act program that awards cities millions in state sales tax rebates for projects that would increase tourism and jobs. Applications are due July 8.

"The RTA application is the subject of a great deal of effort and will be presented to the mayor for approval and assuming it meets his satisfaction and properly captures the goals and vision of the city, will be submitted," Melcher said. "We expect the stadium to be a significant part of that."

With Summit's stadium report in hand, Bach will assemble a citizen's downtown stadium task force to examine how the city would pay for a $60 million baseball stadium and where it could be built.

"We see it as a possibility," Melcher said. "But it is too early to know if the community will support this."

Mike Moran, spokesman for Sports Corp., recalls a 1985 effort to pass a $6 million bond election for a Colorado Springs minor league baseball stadium. Voters rejected it.

"The climate may have changed," Moran said. "Who knows, this is a long time later."

Minor league baseball clubs are independently owned but affiliated with a Major League Baseball franchises, which pick up the tab on all player and staff salaries. Minor league clubs are responsible for operating costs.

In 1988, Dave Elmore moved his Hawaii Islanders to Colorado Springs and built Security Service Field, where the Sky Sox play, for $3.7 million. Over the years, Elmore has spent millions in renovations including the recent addition of a full service kitchen, installation of an LED scoreboard and the addition of a Major League Baseball-style ticket purchasing program.

Tony Ensor, president and general manager of the Sky Sox, has reviewed the Summit report and issued a statement.

"The mayor has asked the city to begin the process of seriously considering a new downtown multi-use stadium and we appreciate his vision for a more vibrant downtown," Ensor said. "If the community gets behind and supports such a venue and the situation makes sense for our organization the Sky Sox would be happy to support the community on such a project."

Ensor declined further comment.

The stadium task force will need to consider how a multi-use stadium will work with the requirements of minor league baseball, Moran said. And it should consider easy access from the interstate to the downtown park.

"The critical factor, as I have observed in many cities around the county in AAA and AA and even class A baseball franchises that have erected downtown stadiums is there has been an immediate positive effect in surrounding areas when it is part of a larger plan that goes along with the city," Moran said.

Summit's report said a downtown baseball stadium shouldn't be just for baseball. Successful downtown minor league baseball stadiums have about 200 events annually, from animal shows to carnivals, Rochette said.

"The kind of impetus to grow downtown, it takes that catalyst to get something going, some of the cities just trying to involve a stadium by itself, don't have as much success if that is all they are focused on." Rochette said.

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