The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs broke ground Thursday on its addition to the City for Champions initiative, even as the fate of two other projects remained uncertain.

The William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center took its first, formal steps toward rising from the ground off North Nevada Avenue after more than five years of planning. It was a landmark moment for the $61.4 million project — making it the second City for Champions site to begin construction just two months before a key financing deadline.

“I truly believe the center will be one of a kind in the nation, if not the world,” UCCS Chancellor Venkat Reddy said.

“We expect it will become a national leader in the study and application of sports medicine and science.”

Construction is expected to be completed in April 2020.

The groundbreaking came just a day after city and private-sector partners asked the Colorado Economic Development Commission for a year extension to begin “substantial work” on the two remaining City for Champions projects: a new Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports and events center at two downtown locations.

Neither project has begun excavation or other types of physical construction — leaving open the possibly that the city could lose $28 million in state financing for the projects by not meeting a Dec. 16 deadline. A vote by the commission could come next month.

Mayor John Suthers hailed Thursday’s groundbreaking at UCCS as showing “very tangible progress” on an initiative he said would bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Pikes Peak region. He also expressed confidence that the city will receive an extension for the remaining two projects.

“These facilities will also create new jobs, further bolster our strong sports economy and cement our national reputation as Olympic City USA,” Suthers said.

Once completed, organizers expect the new sports and performance center to be a national standard-bearer for care of injured athletes, paralympians, military veterans and wounded first-responders.

Nestled between the UCCS Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences and the Ent Center for the Arts, the sports center is expected to cater to hundreds of professional athletes, as well as youth and amateur club sports participants, every day. Meanwhile, about 1,400 students are expected to visit the building on a daily basis.

Almost half of the building’s 104,000 square feet will be set aside for medical care and sports performance work overseen by Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.

The rest will be used for classrooms, lecture halls and other academic programs. In a unique twist, it will combine undergraduate and graduate studies with clinical practice and research.

“We know that care is moving out of the hospitals, and what we want to do is engage people — not just patients, but engage individuals — wherever they are in their health care journey,” said Dr. Brian Erling, Penrose-St. Francis’ president and CEO.

A rotation of four full-time doctors — two orthopedists and two primary care sports medicine physicians — will work at the building.

Together, they’ll oversee orthopedic care, athletic training, orthotics and prosthetics care and even sports psychology, along with a host of other services.

Three “centers of distinction” will be housed at the facility, including one aimed at helping military troops, police officers, firefighters and other first responders recover from major injuries, while helping to prevent new ones.

Another center will focus on helping athletes and others with special needs participate in sports, while a third center will help elite athletes better perform in extreme conditions, such as at high altitudes.

“This is going to be a laboratory for excellence,” Erling said.

The cost ballooned from its original estimate of $40 million after university officials added 32,000 square feet to the building’s original footprint. Much of that additional space will be for extra medical care and sports performance programs.

Financing will come, in part, from bonds issued by the university that will be repaid by $16.8 million in sales tax rebates from the Regional Tourism Act, as a part of the City for Champions initiative.

UCCS has issued those bonds, said Corrie West, associate director of development for UCCS.

Centura Health — a parent organization of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services — will cover roughly $20 million of the cost. And the rest — roughly $25 million — will come from UCCS. The university has raised most of the money, though it is still fundraising to pay for lab equipment and other amenities, West said.

The groundbreaking comes almost five years after state tourism officials approved $120.5 million in state economic development aid for the City for Champion’s four projects.

Until Thursday, only one of those projects had broken ground.

The $75 million, 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic Museum has begun taking shape at Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street in south downtown Colorado Springs. Construction reached its halfway point in April, and project leaders expect it to be completed in 2019.

The latest ceremony attracted scores of city officials, local dignitaries, business owners and university leaders — a show of support that is important for cities seeking assistance, said Chris Franz, a member of the commission in attendance Thursday.

Franz gave no indication if the city would receive an extension.

However, he said the commission toured each City for Champions site on Wednesday — getting a first-hand look at $1.5 billion to $2 billion in future investments planned around the projects, including apartments and new businesses, Franz said.

“It shows the power of the projects and the Olympic Museum,” Franz said.

Public safety net reporter

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