A Pueblo County official that supports a proposed new Pueblo ballpark is not seeking reelection, and the two candidates vying to replace him are critical of the current plan.
There have been discussions about luring the Orem Owlz (Rookie; Pioneer League) to the Colorado city with a new ballpark that would be constructed as part of a larger downtown development plan. Under the funding model for the proposed facility, Pueblo County would issue taxable certificates of participation for up to $25 million, to be backed by tax increment financing. The county is proposing to assume all of the debt risk, but has asked the city to provide 3% of its 3.7% sales and use tax plus 4.3% of its lodging tax revenue generated in the area for 25 years. Owlz owner Jeff Katofsky, meanwhile, would develop three hotels in the surrounding area that could serve visitors to the ballpark and tournament attendees at a nearby sports complex that would be funded separately from the MiLB facility.
Throughout the discussions, one of the most ardent supporters of the project has been Pueblo County commissioner Sal Pace. Pace is not seeking reelection this fall, and the proposal has run into complications of late. It is possible that the issue will be resolved one way or another by the time new commissioners take office in January, but the two candidates running to replace Pace–Democrat Chris Wiseman and Republican Zach Swearingen–are both critical of the plan in its current form. Both are taking issue with the economics of the proposal, indicating that they cannot support it as is. More from The Pueblo Chieftain:
“It’s a no. … There are so many important issues in Pueblo and we are all being caught up on this one,” [Wiseman] said.
“But for me, everything that I have seen — and I know the people at the county are working really hard and I know that Sal Pace has a lot of faith in this program — for me the issue is that I wouldn’t even take it to the vote of the people because the economics at this point don’t make sense.”
Wiseman said it’s not that he doesn’t trust voters. It’s because, as the plan is presented now, “It doesn’t seem to make economic sense.”…
[Swearingen] said he has heard several discrepancies with how the project will be funded.
“Basically, Pueblo County is the lender and this guy is asking for a loan,” said Swearingen. “You can’t get a loan with a business plan that has a bunch of holes in it.”
Late last month, Katfosky announced that he would move the Owlz to Pueblo as early as 2020 if an agreement for the ballpark project could be completed. However, the plan has run into a great deal of uncertainty in the short period since that announcement. For starters, the land where the hotels would be located isn’t a sure thing: city officials say any sale of surplus land must go through an bidding process, as opposed to being sold outright to Katofsky. Additionally, some elected leaders–including county commissioner Garrison Ortiz and members of the Pueblo City Council–have expressed concerns that the project is relying too heavily on voter-approved 1A funds that officials do not believe should be directed toward the ballpark. (There were signs last week that Katofsky was walking away from the deal, but Pueblo County appears to be continuing discussions.)
The Pueblo proposal has some significant stakes for Minor League Baseball, as it could resolve future travel issues within the Pioneer League. With the Helena Brewers moving to Colorado Springs for 2019, a Pueblo team would be a natural travel partner. Without Pueblo, Colorado Springs becomes an outlier: the closest Pioneer League city, Grand Junction, is 285 miles away.
Rendering courtesy Youth Entertainment Sports Pueblo.
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