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Pueblo County Pulls Plug on Ballpark Project

Pueblo Ballpark rendering

With the proposal facing several hurdles, two Pueblo County commissioners announced Monday that discussions on a new Pueblo ballpark for the Orem Owlz (Rookie; Pioneer League) have ended. 

Discussions had been centered around luring the Owlz to the Colorado city with a new ballpark that would anchor a broader downtown development plan. Pueblo County proposed issuing taxable certificates of participation for up to $25 million, to be backed by tax increment financing. The county would have assumed all of the debt risk, but 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 have developed 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.

There appeared to be momentum behind the proposal after Katofsky announced late last month that he intended to move the Owlz to Pueblo, provided that an agreement was approved, but it ultimately encountered some obstacles. For starters, the land where the hotels would be located was not a sure thing: city officials said 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–expressed concerns that the project relied too heavily on voter-approved 1A funds that officials did not believe should be directed toward the ballpark.

On Monday, Terry Hart and Sal Pace–two Pueblo County commissioners that have supported the project–issued a statement confirming that discussions were ceasing. More from The Pueblo Chieftain:

“After the flurry of activity last week, we have come to the sad conclusion that we need to cease working on the YES project,” a statement from the two commissioners said.

“We believe that it was a worthy project for our town because it would have given Pueblo a multi-use stadium, which would have been built by the owner’s own tax payments to our community; we would have received $50-million in new associated Downtown private development; it would have allowed us to host multi-state youth baseball tournaments and have a major league affiliated minor league baseball team; it would have provided a wonderful anchor for further development of HARP and downtown Pueblo; and, it would have delivered a huge economic boost to our community.”

The commissioners said that, unfortunately, the project opponents have made the chance of success far too unlikely to move forward.

“There are other important projects that we need to work on, including the other 1A projects, Fountain Creek water quality, and local economic development projects,” the commissioners said.

Katofsky had sought to move the Owlz to Pueblo as early as 2020. For Minor League Baseball, the Pueblo proposal carried some interesting stakes by offering the ability to solve future travel issues in the Pioneer League. With the Helena Brewers moving to Colorado Springs for 2019, a Pueblo team would have been a natural travel partner. Without Pueblo, Colorado Springs becomes an outlier: the closest Pioneer League city, Grand Junction, is 285 miles away.

On Monday evening, Katofsky issued the following statement on the end of discussions with Pueblo and Pueblo County officials:

Previously, we announced a likely deal with the City and County of Pueblo, Colorado, to open a youth sports facility, multiple hotels and a new home for the Owlz. I have always stated that it was a dream and goal of mine to have a youth sports facility for boys and girls to learn baseball, team sports and the leadership and athletic lessons that ensue. I cautioned that the transaction was preliminary and there were a lot of details to finalize the deal. In the end, some within the City of Pueblo, as well as other related governmental agencies, were either unable or unwilling to consummate the written and oral promises that were made to our ownership groups.

The impetus for this transaction was multi-purpose. Pueblo Colorado has a beautiful Historic Downtown with a breathtaking Riverwalk and wonderful, welcoming people. From a business standpoint, however, it is stagnant and in dire need of an anchor. Our goal was to invest approximately $50,000,000 in order to revitalize Pueblo through sports, tourism and growth that would bring literally thousands of people to Pueblo weekly during baseball season. In addition, Pueblo would have a multi-use facility for events, concerts, graduations, high school and college games, soccer and a host of exciting community gatherings. Unfortunately, those opposed to this economic juggernaut had the louder voice. For whatever reasons, we seemed to believe in Pueblo more than this outspoken minority.

The Owlz will continue to enjoy the most beautiful ballpark in all of Minor League Baseball and its positive relationship with Utah Valley University. We wish our friends in Pueblo success and prosperity.

Rendering courtesy Youth Entertainment Sports Pueblo.

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