EconomyNewsSouthern Colorado

Governments exploring industrial rail park in southern El Paso County

Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - May 7, 2018 - Updated: May 7, 2018

Local governments are partnering to explore a project that could breathe new economic life into an area just south of Fountain.

El Paso County commissioners voted unanimously last week to OK an agreement among the county, Fountain, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC and several other entities to move forward with a proposal for an industrial rail park on a 3,000-acre ranch just west of Ray Nixon Power Plant.

The approval kick-starts a process that will take place over the next nine to 14 months to examine the economic benefits of building such a park, whether the site has infrastructure to accommodate the project, how much it might cost, and where that funding might come from, said Kimberly Bailey, Fountain’s economic development manager.

Officials will determine if the site is appropriate for a small internal rail line that would connect to the nearby Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railways, two major cross-country lines that serve the power plant.

Through the agreement, the governments will also consider businesses, such as manufacturers and transportation and logistic companies, that might be interested in such a park. Bailey said.

Bailey said the park is an opportunity to establish a “hardy business corridor” for the Fountain and Colorado Springs community and take advantage of Denver’s saturated market. While the demand exists for such a complex in Denver, the area doesn’t have enough space for one, she said.

The idea of an industrial rail park in El Paso County has been floating around for more than a decade, said Tammy Fields, chief economic development officer of the Chamber & EDC.

It would open the door for an industry sector of manufacturers, suppliers and other businesses that the county has never had the infrastructure to accommodate, Fields said.

“It’s definitely an opportunity to attract new investment and jobs to a part of the county that’s a little bit different than the rest of the metro area,” she said.

The park might also offer additional railway access to Fort Carson to deploy soldiers, as well as job opportunities for post-military careers, the county’s economic development manager, county Economic Development Director DeAnne McCann told commissioners at last week’s meeting.

“Manufacturing has declined significantly, not only locally but across the nation,” McCann said. “A rail-served industrial park has the potential to actually bring manufacturing jobs back to the community. Those jobs have a significant multiplier effect.”

When the Great Recession hit, the local region lost more than 15,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the Fountain Urban Renewal Authority’s website. The site is part of one of the authority’s four designated urban renewal areas.

A proof of concept report, which the county commissioned for $17,500, proposes building the park on the Christian Ranch, which is owned by the Chicago-based Edward C. Levy Co. Most of that land is vacant, aside from a 400-acre quarry operated by Schmidt Construction, according to the 2015 report, prepared by Cameron Butcher Commercial Real Estate.

The report proposes a complex including more than 2,500 acres of industrial land, a railyard and space for forest product processing. The park would require the construction of about 18 miles of internal railroad tracks and 12 miles of roads, the report states.

According to the proof of concept, the closest industrial rail park that’s served by both the Union Pacific and BNSF lines is the Great Western Industrial Park in Windsor.

The new agreement establishes an oversight committee for the project and a budget of $125,000 – $5,000 from Colorado Springs, $48,000 from the county, $6,000 from the Levy Company, $24,000 from Fountain and $42,000 from the EDC.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the memorandum of understanding, with Commissioner Peggy Littleton absent and excused.

The next steps in the process will include engineering, economic and workforce analyses, as well as the study of environmental impacts, McCann told commissioners.

Bailey said that if everything goes according to plan, funding for the project could be identified in 2020.

Rachel Riley, The Gazette

Rachel Riley, The Gazette