Artist rendering of the proposed sports and event center in Antl
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Artist rendering of the proposed sports and event center in Antlers Park

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Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is leaning against a plan to put a downtown sports and event center in city-owned Antlers Park, although he hasn't ruled it out.

Suthers, back in town Thursday after a two-day economic development trip to China, said he's worried about legal questions raised by City Attorney Wynetta Massey related to Antlers Park. In an opinion last year after the proposal surfaced, Massey said a sports and event center would violate restrictions designed to protect public use of the park.

"I have great respect for Wynetta Massey as an attorney," said Suthers. "Her legal opinion raises very legitimate legal issues."

At the same time, the sports and event center's size - an 8,000-seat outdoor stadium for soccer and other activities and a 2,000-seat indoor event center for volleyball, basketball and other sports - seems too large for Antlers Park, Suthers said.

Drawings show the footprint of the complex consuming all of the 3.3-acre park, northeast of Colorado Avenue and Sierra Madre Street and directly west of The Antlers hotel.

"I don't think it's an ideal location simply from a size standpoint," Suthers said. "If you look at the schematic drawing, there's no concourse around it or anything like that. I don't think that's ideal. If there was another viable location, then I think we need to look at it."

CityGate, a vacant block covering 4 acres southwest of Cimarron and Sahwatch streets on downtown's south edge, has been mentioned by Suthers and others as an option. A company controlled by businessman and philanthropist Phil Lane, who's also board chairman of the Colorado Springs Forward group, owns the property.

Suthers has said that he and his staff have talked with members of the community - he won't identify them - who've shown interest in getting the sports and event center built. He also said one or maybe two other sites are possible for the complex, but he declined to identify them.

"If there is no other viable location from an investment standpoint, where the land's available, all that sort of thing, is that (Antlers Park) better than nothing?" Suthers said. "It probably is. But we've also got to overcome the legal issues."

Springs attorney and businessman Perry Sanders Jr., who co-owns The Antlers and Mining Exchange hotels, is spearheading the proposal to build a sports and event center in Antlers Park. He's been joined by Ed and Nick Ragain, father-and-son owners of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks minor league soccer team.

The group says construction of the sports and event center would clean up Antlers Park, a frequent hangout for the homeless who trash the area.

Sanders and the Ragains argue the city must act now or risk losing nearly $28 million the state has earmarked to help fund the sports and event center, which is one of four City for Champions tourism projects. The city needs to start work on the venue by Dec. 13 or risk forfeiting state money for that project.

Suthers' view of the sports and event center is key. According to Massey, the mayor's office has the authority to determine how the state money can be spent for the sports and event center, apparently giving Suthers the final say on its location.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council will hold a public hearing to solicit input on the Antlers Park proposal. Council members then are expected to decide whether to launch a study of Antlers Park as a home for the sports and event center or scrap consideration of the proposal.

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Contact the reporter: 636-0228

Twitter: @richladen

Facebook: Rich Laden

Business writer, Colorado Springs Gazette

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