Pueblo County Commissioners Sal Pace and Terry Hart publicly unveiled plans to build a downtown stadium as part of a multifaceted deal to bring an affiliated Minor League Baseball team to town. The proposed 2,800 seat stadium would be built right on the Riverwalk, north of Lake Elizabeth and close to a proposed redevelopment of the old municipal power plant.
Pace explained that the County plans to pay for the new building using Tax Increment Financing, or TIF for short. The Commissioners would borrow against expected sales tax revenue that would be generated by three new hotels that the ball club owner plans to build. None of the new property tax revenue coming in from the passage of Ballot Issue 1A would be used for the stadium.
"We’re asking the City to work with us, along with Urban Renewal to collect future tax payments to help pay back the bond to pay for it," Pace explained.
He estimates the cost of the stadium alone to be about $17 million. However, property acquisition and other costs could drive the final price tag up to $27 million. Some Council members seemed to like the idea.
"It is truly a vision that is pretty easy to get behind," said Mark Aliff, a Councilman at Large.
Councilman Larry Atencio drew applause from the audience when he announced he would support the deal. Others though expressed doubt.
"I’m all for this," said Councilman Bob Schilling. "But I’ve got some real, real gut concerns for this whole thing."
The deal needs City support because of both the involvement of the Urban Renewal Authority and the Tax Increment Financing. State law requires that development projects which use tax increment financing be controlled by an Urban Renewal Authority and the Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority is a branch of City government. The County is also asking the City to contribute 3 percent of its 3.7 percent sales tax to the TIF as part of the proposal.
As News 5 first reported, the ball club owner was attracted to Pueblo because of plans under Ballot Issue 1A to build additional youth sports fields at the Runyon Complex. The team owner wants to host traveling youth baseball tournaments at Runyon and expects to bring in roughly 500 families per week to stay in his new hotels.
The hotel sites are all vacant properties which aren’t currently collecting any sales tax. They include the empty Police annex next door to the Brues House, a parking near SRDA and a pad site on the Riverwalk. The total cost to be invested by the developer in the hotels is estimated at $50 million.
"We don’t get it unless we build it," Atencio said. "Not only that, that stadium built with public money will belong to the public."
Before the discussion ended, Council members Schilling and Chris Nicoll suggested putting off a decision until the Commissioners can provide them more details about the financing. One request was to have the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation vet the developer. Nicoll also wanted to see more specific TIF projections.
"We can’t be rushed on something this big," said Councilman Chris Nicoll. "We’ve got to have a chance to work through that. And so, if it takes a little extra time then I think it’s the right thing to do."
Time is running short. As we’ve reported, the ball club owner flew to Pueblo in February ahead of an expected public announcement, but the deal unraveled. Minor League Baseball rules require owners to give 2 years notice before relocating a team. The team owner’s contract with his existing city expires in 2020.
Pace and Hart asked the Council to include a resolution of support for the stadium proposal in the agenda for their next meeting on May 29th.
"Pueblo can support this team," said Pace. "I believe in Pueblo I think most of the viewers out there believe in Pueblo. With a little bit of hard work, we can get almost anything done in this community."