Colorado Springs council to discuss legality of sports, event center in Antlers Park

Author: Rich Laden, The Gazette - January 13, 2018 - Updated: January 13, 2018

Artist rendering of the proposed sports and event center in Antlers Park (via the Gazette)

The Colorado Springs City Council will take a critical step next week to determine if a 10,000-seat sports and event center can be built in Antlers Park – holding a special meeting to discuss legal questions surrounding the controversial proposal.

The council will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave. Council members, however, probably will close their meeting to the public because they expect to discuss legal strategies and hear advice from the City Attorney’s Office, Council President Richard Skorman said Friday.

At issue is what the city can or can’t do when it comes to the use of Antlers Park in downtown Colorado Springs. That determination is all the more pressing because the city faces a December deadline to start work on the sports and event center or risk losing nearly $28 million in funding provided by the state to help build the project.

In a legal opinion last year, City Attorney Wynetta Massey advised council members and city parks officials that building a sports and event center in Antlers Park could be prohibited if it restricts the public’s use of the park. Those requirements are tied to the donation of the park to the city by founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer in 1882, she said in her opinion.

Still, Massey also told the council during its workshop session last Monday that it could direct her office to determine if a sports and event center would be an appropriate use for Antlers Park.

“It’s not clear what role council really has to play in this, and how this could either move forward or be stopped, I guess, by council one way or the other,” Skorman said.

The council also could consider going to District Court to seek a ruling – a declaratory judgment – that would provide legal guidance when it comes to the use of Antlers Park.

“That might be helpful, anyhow, just to make sure that if this kind of issue comes up again, we have a clear direction from the court,” Skorman said.

The council’s special meeting, however, won’t include a discussion about parking, traffic, finances and other nuts and bolts of the sports and event center proposal, Skorman said.

That discussion will only come if the council gives a green light to the park’s use, he said. If that happens, a public process would follow to allow the community to weigh in on the project and its location, Skorman said.

The plan for a sports and event center in Antlers Park has been proposed by Springs attorney, businessman and hotelier Perry Sanders Jr. and Ed and Nick Ragain, the father-and-son owners of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks soccer team. The 3.3-acre park, northeast of Colorado Avenue and Sierra Madre Street, is directly west of The Antlers hotel, which Sanders co-owns.

Building the complex in Antlers Park would rid the property of transients, drug users and others who regularly trash the area, Sanders told the City Council on Monday. The venue also would attract attendees who’d also visit the U.S. Olympic Museum, now under construction a few blocks away in southwest downtown, he said.

Perhaps most importantly, getting the sports and event center built would ensure the city keeps $27.7 million in funding that the state has earmarked for the project, Sanders and the Ragains argued.

The venue is one of four City for Champions tourism projects, which were awarded $120.5 million over 30 years from the state. But the city must start substantial work on the venue by Dec. 13 or risk losing the state allocation for that project.

“You think about the $27.7 million and you think about the need for a downtown arena, especially in connection with the Olympic Museum, and you wouldn’t want to rule out moving forward with this if the risks aren’t great,” Skorman said.

Yet, another factor potentially comes into play for the City Council as it determines its options.

Jeff Greene, Mayor John Suthers’ chief of staff, told council members this week that it’s their decision – not the mayor’s – to determine the appropriate use of Antlers Park. Massey, however, told the council moments later that the mayor’s office has the authority to determine how the state money can be spent for the sports and event center – seemingly giving Suthers the last word on whether a facility can be put in the park.

“Regardless of what council’s decision is with regard (to Antlers Park), only the mayor can make the determination on the final location, design, whatever it is, of the proposed C4C stadium and event center,” she told the council.

Greene said this week that Suthers hasn’t decided whether he supports the Antlers Park proposal. Last month, Suthers said he and his staff were talking with community members, including developers and investors that he declined to identify, who wanted to find a way to keep the sports and event center and its state money.

Whatever Suthers might decide on the sports and event center, Skorman said, he’s hoping for a consensus between the council, mayor and the community.

“Maybe council can make a recommendation and maybe the mayor will agree,” Skorman said. “If the mayor doesn’t, we’ll have to deal with it at the time.”

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Lisa Walton