Moving the Colorado Springs Sky Sox to a proposed downtown sports and event center from their suburban, northeast stadium could be back on the table.
But the possibility that the minor league baseball team would become the primary user of the downtown sports and event center - which still lacks a site, price tag and funding - has angered the Colorado Springs Switchbacks soccer team, which has eyed the venue as its new home.
The team's president lashed out Friday at Mayor John Suthers, accusing him of wanting the Switchbacks to take a back seat to the Sky Sox as a tenant. Being a secondary user in a baseball-first stadium would be a losing proposition financially for the Switchbacks and for the community, said team president Nick Ragain, who co-owns the franchise with his father, Ed.
"We're interested in long-term success," Ragain said. "We're not interested in John Suthers' short-term political win. We want to be here for a long time. You put us as a subtenant in a baseball stadium and you might have a short-term political win, but it's a long-term loser. And that's seen in city after city across the country."
Suthers couldn't be reached for comment, but Bob Cope, city economic development manager, said no decisions have been made about the sports and event center's design other than it will contain outdoor and indoor components.
"I just see all parties exploring all options," he said.
Ragain's displeasure - comes at a delicate time for the city.
The mayor and his staff are racing to find a site for the sports and event center and ways to fund and operate it, among other unresolved issues that Suthers describes as "very complicated." The city must launch substantial work on the facility by Dec. 16 or risk forfeiting nearly $28 million a state agency has earmarked for the project.
In remarks this week to a local radio station and to The Gazette, Suthers seemingly reintroduced the Sky Sox as a possible tenant in the sports and event center, even as Cope said Friday the idea had never been abandoned.
The sports and event center was proposed in 2013 as one of four City for Champions tourism projects. At the time, the facility was envisioned as a stadium for the Triple A Sky Sox, with renderings showing a baseball diamond and classic ballpark configuration. Many Sky Sox fans, however, voiced opposition to moving the team from its longtime home at Security Service Field, southeast of Powers Boulevard and Barnes Road.
The downtown facility then was reconfigured into a multipurpose venue that would host Olympic and amateur sports, among other events. Baseball, however, never was eliminated as a use for the facility, although there's been little talk over the last few years of the Sky Sox moving downtown.
Last year, the Sky Sox's longtime owners - the Elmore family of Salt Lake City - announced they're moving their Triple A franchise from Colorado Springs to San Antonio in 2019. In its place, the Elmores plan to relocate their Rookie League team to the Springs from Montana. It still will be called the Sky Sox, but will play a shorter season from June to September.
On Thursday, Suthers told KRDO radio that "it appears we'd need two stadiums to satisfy everybody because the Switchbacks want a soccer-only stadium. And the Sky Sox, who are going to keep their Pioneer (Rookie League) team here, they're willing to have a dual-use stadium - both soccer and baseball. The Switchbacks do not want a dual-use stadium. So that's also a complicating factor."
A few minutes later, Suthers told The Gazette the Ragains "want strictly soccer," but building two stadiums would be financially unrealistic.
Neither Sky Sox General Manager Tony Ensor nor the Elmores could be reached for comment.
Nick Ragain, however, said Suthers is mischaracterizing what the Switchbacks want. Since launching in March 2015 in the USL Pro League, the Switchbacks have played at Weidner Field, next to Security Service Field. The Switchbacks invested at least $3 million into their venue, which they lease from the city; it now seats up to 5,000 people, according to the team's website.
The Switchbacks, however, need an outdoor venue with at least 8,000 seats as it competes with other franchises, Ragain said. The team is willing to be part of a dual-use, downtown facility, Ragain said. While the Sky Sox might want a baseball-first stadium that could accommodate soccer, lacrosse and other sports, the Switchbacks need a rectangular stadium - but would welcome baseball as a secondary user, he said.
Sight-lines aren't as good for soccer fans watching their sport in a baseball stadium, which would hurt attendance and Switchback finances, Ragain said. The team likes the downtown concept because many of its younger fans enjoy walking and biking to a venue, while eating and drinking at restaurants and bars on game day, he said.
"It is dishonest to say that the (Switchbacks) will not compromise on (City for Champions) while the Sky Sox will," Ragain wrote on Twitter. "Tell us (Mayor Suthers) would the (Sky Sox) agree to be a subtenant? And play on a field not designed for their sport?"