Nine years ago last week, this column reported on a gathering of 75 civic leaders at Phantom Canyon, talking about ideas for a multi-use downtown stadium. In the back of the room, local attorney and native Terry Rector and yours truly talked about bigger ideas — creating a sports, business and convention/event complex, a magnet for generations to come.
That was 2008, but those concepts soon faded when the recession struck, though developers like Chris Jenkins never stopped dreaming, hoping and slowly maneuvering.
Five years later, a downtown stadium/events center emerged in the four-pronged City for Champions proposal funded in part by the state Regional Tourism Act. But while the other projects — U.S. Olympic Museum, Air Force Academy Visitors Center and UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center — have moved forward, the downtown stadium never has generated momentum.
Then came a recent Gazette story, with Mayor John Suthers performing last rites. The strategy shifted to sacrificing the stadium in favor of a new push for revising state law and C4C, with the National Museum of World War II Aviation (now at the airport) adding a downtown presence and sharing the parking garage to be built for the Olympic Museum.
My reaction: Why? Have we exhausted every promising option for the downtown stadium? No way. The global trend is turning toward exactly the kind of multipurpose stadium that still could work for Colorado Springs, surrounded by offices, restaurants and bars, stores and more. In our case, the complex could combine with, and better utilize, the Olympic Museum and movement, creating an Olympic City Center (Rector's latest idea).
Here's another option, which hasn't been mentioned anywhere: Why not partner with the Air Force Academy and build a new Falcon Stadium downtown? It could replace the aging 55-year-old stadium with a showplace. It could seat 35,000 to 40,000 in permanent capacity, expandable for big-draw Army, Navy or Notre Dame games, with a sliding retractable roof for bad conditions. It would remove the security issues that exist (and won't go away) inside the Academy. It could have luxury boxes, as the current stadium does, to help cover expenses and add appeal for other events. It could utilize recent video advancements at the present stadium, which could be relocated easily. It could be used for other purposes, from major events and concerts to Olympic sports. And it could have convention facilities underneath, along with someday being served by rapid transit (train service).
Who knows, Colorado Springs might consider hosting a college football bowl game, like Boise and Albuquerque. And with flexibility plus sufficient seating, we could bid for such events as NCAA basketball regionals. It also could become the home for the soccer Switchbacks, with the capacity improving chances of someday becoming a Major League Soccer franchise.
Such a complex would be operated by a regional stadium authority, which Colorado Springs and El Paso County officials already have explored in cities such as Phoenix. And let's not forget that many Olympic sports were willing to consider national championships, international events and Olympic trials for a Colorado Springs stadium/events center when that replaced baseball as part of the C4C package.
Yes, such a complex would force creative approaches to address parking for the biggest events, but shuttles from other sites could work (as when The Broadmoor hosts major golf tournaments).
So, how could something like this happen? It would need key leaders to buy in, embrace the potential and seize the opportunity. Anyone can go to populous.com and see how that international architectural firm (which has worked with some of Broadmoor owner Philip Anschutz's entities) is shaping the future of downtown stadium complexes.
In Colorado Springs, we have forward-thinking developers including the Jenkins family, and Perry Sanders has begun transforming downtown with the Mining Exchange, The Antlers and other mega-ideas. Also, of course, Anschutz. And to have any chance, Mayor Suthers would have to be supportive, along with a majority of City Council.
Someone would have to be the convener, whether Suthers, Jenkins, Sanders or ideally a combination. We've seen how, with the right people onboard, Colorado Springs can reach for new heights. The downtown stadium still could become the catalyst for our city's future.
Let's give it a chance. While we still can.