June 10, 2014 Updated: June 11, 2014 at 10:31 am
Colorado Springs City Council signed a $2 million deal Tuesday with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks men's pro soccer team to play at its Sand Creek stadium despite objections from the neighboring Sky Sox baseball franchise.
The council approved, in a 5-4 vote, a 10-year lease agreement with the Switchback Football Club that allows the team owner to pump $2 million into the soccer complex. Also, the United Soccer Leagues Pro team will pay the city $18,310 a year in rent.
About $1.4 million in upgrades, including bleachers, a press box and stairs along the berms and two light poles, will be permanent. Work will begin soon in preparation for the 2015 season, which begins in March. The Switchbacks also will spend $600,000 on temporary additions such as restrooms, concession stands and locker rooms at the stadium, which is adjacent to the Security Service Field.
It's going to be trouble, said Dave Elmore, owner of the Sky Sox team and baseball stadium, which is at Barnes Road and Tutt Boulevard. Schedules are going to clash, parking is going to be a nightmare and the Sky Sox could be financially hurt.
"I wake up at night thinking about this," Elmore said. "I don't see a way this won't hurt the Sky Sox."
The two teams had met in recent weeks but came to a stalemate. Sky Sox general manager Tony Ensor said the soccer stadium and the Sky Sox baseball field are less than 30 feet apart. Ensor said that the Sky Sox has about 20 Friday and Saturday nights available yearly to host events. If they have to give up half of those for soccer games, it will hurt the club financially.
"That is just untenable to us," he said.
Four council members - Joel Miller, Helen Collins, Andy Pico and Don Knight - agreed and did not support the deal, saying the city needs to protect the Sky Sox.
"Everything is great, everything is outstanding except for what is the impact to the existing team," Pico said.
"I would like to support it but I have to look at the full impact to a well-established team that has been here for a very long time."
Council member Merv Bennett said the Sky Sox have been good business partners with the city and he was conflicted over the decision.
Bennett voted with council members Val Snider, Jan Martin, Jill Gaebler and Keith King to approve the lease.
Soccer franchise owner Ragain Sports president Nick Ragain and about a dozen soccer enthusiasts who testified before City Council walked away happy and ready to usher in a new era in sports in the city. Ragain said Sand Creek is the best fit for the up-and-coming franchise.
It has perfectly flat pitch and a grass field, he said. It is sized for professional soccer and the berms make for a nice boxed-in experience for spectators, Ragain said.
"We looked at many stadiums - this is hands down the best for success," he said.
The soccer team must yield to the Sky Sox game schedule, according to the lease agreement. But there should be no parking issues if the Sky Sox hosts an event in its banquet room on the same night as soccer game, said Karen Palus, parks director.
Ragain said he's confident the schedules will work out.
"When the dust settles tomorrow, the two franchises will find a way to work together," he said.
Gaebler said she was excited for another sporting opportunity that might keep fans in the city instead of going to Denver.
"I don't think we can ignore what a great opportunity it is to have a pro soccer team here," she said. "We should do what we can to help them both thrive."
Ragain hopes that Sand Creek is a temporary venue for the soccer team. The soccer franchise is interested in eventually making the proposed downtown sports and events center, which is part of the City for Champions project, its long-term home.