Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Too close for comfort: Proximity behind argument between pro franchises Sky Sox and Switchbacks

By Joe Paisley Published: June 9, 2014

The distance is only 30 feet, but the local pro baseball franchise and new soccer team appear far from becoming friendly neighbors.

The City Council will consider their concerns Tuesday. On the agenda is a 10-year lease of Sand Creek Stadium to the new USL Pro franchise, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. That lease, recommended by the city parks board, is opposed by the possible neighbor, the Sky Sox.

The council members face a tough question: Can a cash-strapped city turn down a soccer team owner willing to spend $2 million to renovate a parks facility without harming a longtime pro baseball franchise next door?

Council member Andy Pico isn't sure what the group will decide or when.

"You don't want to say no," he said. "But you don't want to hurt a longtime franchise that has invested heavily ($13-plus million with another $5 million-$6 million planned) in their facility. We're hoping they find a way to reach an agreement."

The Pacific Coast League franchise, in its 27th season in Colorado Springs, wants soccer to succeed, general manager Tony Ensor said, just not 30 feet from its main entrance.

The Switchbacks say they need that venue to succeed and are spending money to improve it, Ragain Sports president Nick Ragain said. No city money would be used.

Permanent improvements include bleachers on the eastern berm, a press box, stairs to expanded berms and cement paths above the seats, two additional light poles and temporary additions such as restrooms, concession stands and locker rooms. League play starts March 2015, which requires a decision soon. Conversations between the franchises began months ago, Ragain said, but went sour in April.

"We would prefer not to put the City Council in the position to have to choose between us or an important franchise like the Sky Sox," he said. "Can we coexist and add to the sporting experience in Colorado Springs? I think, absolutely, yes. They view us as a competitor and not as a potential partner."

The disagreement centers on scheduling and parking.

The 72 home games at Security Service Field, 4385 Tutt Blvd., and other events from March through September make conflicts a certainty, especially because there are only two shared entrances for parking at both facilities with too few spaces for both teams' needs, Ensor said. He added that weather delays, rescheduled games and playoffs add more uncertainty.

Ensor said other local venues could host the Switchbacks, who disagree.

"We wouldn't be spending $2 million of our money if it did not make a difference," Ragain said. "We did a feasibility study, and we need to be there so we can be successful."

Not getting the lease does not mean the team will leave the city, Ragain said.

"We are not even considering that right now," he said.

The franchise is interested in a proposed sports venue in the City For Champions proposal for a long-term home. That proposal's uncertainty means they must play at Sand Creek, Ragain said.

The Sky Sox want them to play elsewhere.

"We love the idea of another pro team in Colorado Springs," Ensor said. "But it needs to be done in the right way and in the right location."

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