A proposal to build a 10,000-seat sports and event center in city-owned Antlers Park got a warm reception Monday night from dozens of people at an open house held by the project's proponents.
The Q&A-style event was held in a ballroom in The Antlers hotel and led by Perry Sanders Jr., a Colorado Springs attorney and co-owner of the hotel, and Nick Ragain, owner of the Switchbacks minor league soccer team with his father, Ed. The team would play in the center's stadium.
For nearly two hours, people voiced concerns and asked questions about the center, which would be erected in the 3.3-acre park directly west of the hotel and northeast of Colorado Avenue and Sierra Madre Street. Some walked up to the microphone simply to praise the project or thank Ragain and Perry for their efforts.
Several people cited worries about the center snarling traffic and clogging parking downtown.
Cathy Kleinsmith, who's lived in Colorado Springs since 1982, asked about parking.
Ragain and Sanders said event attendees likely will carpool, walk from downtown or use rideshare apps such as Uber or Lyft. Sanders said he would donate use of The Antlers hotel's loading dock and make parking available in the hotel's garage.
Their response was unsatisfactory, Kleinsmith later told The Gazette.
"Parking downtown is horrendous," she said, and the sports and event center would only exacerbate the problem. She said she's not a sports fan and doesn't plan to attend games in the stadium but worries about navigating downtown.
Others asked whether city money would be used - not from the general fund or through new taxes, Perry said - and how the public would be able to use the center.
Jim Mesite, a 31-year Springs resident, said after the Q&A that he was about 60 percent convinced that the project is a good idea. Before the meeting, he said he was concerned about efforts to preserve the area and whether the location would be a good move for the Switchbacks.
He said Ragain and Sanders eliminated his first concern.
"I can see now that I didn't have a full appreciation for the problem that the park area has" - with criminals and homeless people - "so preservation-wise, I think they probably changed my mind," he said.
The City Attorney's Office has advised council members and city parks officials that building a sports and event center in Antlers Park could be prohibited if it restricts the public's use of the park, and some residents have questioned the plan.
The City Council, however, meets Wednesday to discuss the proposal.The city faces a December deadline to start work on the center or risk losing nearly $28 million in tax-increment financing approved by the state to help build the project.
After the meeting, Nick Ragain said some people seemed to be distracted by issues unrelated to the project - such as "not going to a professional sport because I don't get paid as much as an athlete" - but he felt they addressed other concerns "very well," including parking.
"As far as our core issues, I think tonight was a home run," he said.
The Gazette's Rich Laden contributed to this report.
Contact Ellie Mulder: 636-0198