Colorado Finally Finds Big "Win-Win"

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New soccer stadium in Commerce City to open in 2007; Rapids of the future starts now
by William ‘BilFish’ Fisher

Denver, CO, July 28, 2004 (CSA) — In a beautiful day in a national wildlife refuge where bald eagles, deer, and prairie dogs roam freely against the backdrop of purple mountains majesty, a crowd gathered to enjoy a respite from the difficult news being generated recently by a team decimated by injuries.

Announced outside the picturesque wild prairie grasslands of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal —a reformed former weapons plant for the U.S. Army— a new soccer-specific stadium will rise to house the Colorado Rapids, the Major League Soccer team owned by Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE).

In 2007 the Rapids will move to a new home they hope will truly be called "The Fortress" of the Western Conference. A loud, 20,000-seat fortress.

With the announcement, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was on hand to add perspective.

"In under 13 years, we'll have seven new soccer stadiums in this country, adding a new lexicon to the sports language, something called the 'soccer-specific stadium.'" Garber told the crowd.

"When they write the book about the history of MLS, they're going to remember this day as one of the building blocks for our great league and our great sport here in the U.S."


Win for youth of Metro Denver
With naming rights still to be determined, the currently known Prairie Gateway Sports Complex —to be built in Commerce City on reclaimed land purchased from the Arsenal— will also act as a concert venue, lacrosse team training ground, and regional sports facility for youth soccer in greater Denver.

Colorado Ambassador and former Rapids player Marcelo Balboa knows this is important for youth soccer in Colorado.

"For [youth soccer] this is huge, having these fields up here," Balboa said. "For Colorado, we've always been a little bit behind because we haven't been able to train our kids year-round.

"Having a complex like this will give us an opportunity to train the kids through the winter, working with CYSA. Being a coach [of Broomfield Blast youth soccer], I know it's important to train year-round. We want to develop programs in Commerce City so we can train kids year-round."

But will Balboa be involved in the new stadium youth fields project?

"Absolutely," says Rapids Governor Charlie Wright. "I've seen a special role for Marcelo in the organization from the start. Yes, he'll play a major part of the evolution of the youth fields."

Balboa also has aspirations in professional soccer management.

"My interest is working in the front office, eventually becoming a general manager," he said. "Coaching for me is down the road, at a professional level."

Longtime Commerce City resident and youth soccer coach Monico Rodriguez stood to thank the City and KSE for their efforts.

Rodriguez noted that "working with kids' [soccer] has been tough in this city with the lack of fields and having to train elsewhere. It's a dream for us. Thank you."

The youth component of today's announcement is also a cornerstone of the development for KSE COO David Ehrlich.

"This is literally one of the most important things we're going to do in the next 20 years," Ehrlich told American Soccer News.

"You could work in this business forever without an opportunity to shape youth sports in this way. We actually get this opportunity in two sports [soccer and lacrosse]."


Stadium details...
...are sketchy at best. HOK have already been chosen as the architects, but with final location details still to be ironed out regarding the enormous 360-acre development, no site-specific renderings beyond the generic images HOK released last April are expected until late 2004.

Commerce City council members indicated that negotiations began as early as December 2003, and this deal began to "gel around a month and a half ago" according to City Councilor-At-Large René Bullock.

Ehrlich responded to American Soccer News questions about the stadium structure.

"Two factors about the stadium," Ehrlich said. "It will be intimate, and it will be family friendly.

"We want to literally bring the fans and the seats as close to the action as possible. We have an enormous home field advantage in Colorado because of our fans. We're going to use that.

With a smile, Erlich added: "If the Commissioner lets us, we'll put [the fans] right on top of the visitors' bench. Maybe we should negotiate that right now.

"We'll have family areas, we'll have picnic areas. We'll expect and hope that families come for the entire day. It will have all the other modern amenities as well.

"It will be open air, but similar to Home Depot [Center, as there will be] a partial roof, a balance creating that fever pitch we want. We're going to focus on the acoustics for concerts and other experiences as well."

In terms of the all-important naming rights, Ehrlich would only say, "stay tuned."

Rapids defenseman Antonio de la Torre was on hand for the ceremony.

"Being a soccer player and playing at Mile High Stadium with a lot of open seats, you don't feel the crowd like back home," he said. "You can feel it at Home Depot Center, [and KSE's] plans are to put the fans very close to the field."

"This will be a big advantage for the Rapids in 2007," De la Torre continued, perhaps foreshadowing his interest in staying with the Rapids. "I'm very happy for the people here today. Hopefully, I will still be here by 2007. Coming here for the announcement, it gives me goose bumps."

Garber sees this stadium announcement as critical to Major League Soccer progress in America.

"The future of the sport is based on our ability to continue to have these facilities built," the Commissioner said, "and not just be places where people go to watch games, but where communities can converge and the whole soccer community can celebrate the sport."

By the numbers
Price tag: $131 Million (split evenly by Commerce City and KSE).

Capacity: 20,000 fans

Total area affected: 360 acres (largest soccer complex in the U.S.).

Land use split: approximately 160 acres for stadium and sports fields, conference facilities and Rocky Mountain Wildlife Refuge visitors' center, as well as open conservation areas. Two hundred acres to be purchased and developed by KSE into 600,000 square feet of commercial/retail space. There will be no residential development due to federal restrictions on the land.

Soccer fields: 10-20 fields total. Two fields for Rapids use, at least one turf field for all-weather use, and the rest for city and regional youth soccer and lacrosse.

Kids on fields: over 100,000 kids per year expected to play on new fields.

Ownership: Commerce City will own the stadium; KSE will operate the venue.

Roof: Yes, similar to the Home Depot Center. It will be open air with a partial roof over the stands.


MLS stadiums around America
1999 - Crew Stadium in Ohio introduces the first soccer-specific stadium.

2003 - Home Depot Center (a.k.a. the Cathedral of American Soccer) opens to rave reviews in Carson, CA.

2005 - Stadium and soccer complex in Frisco, Texas to open for Dallas Burn.

2006 - Chicago Fire announce they will begin play in suburban stadium to be built in Bridgeview, IL.

2006 - MetroStars announce they will begin play in suburban stadium to be built in Harrison, NJ.

2007 - Rapids announce they will begin play in largest soccer complex in the U.S.

50-50 partnership = win-win
Major league sports franchises certainly benefit from new stadiums and major dollars input by local communities, but do cities and locales who host them and work so hard to accommodate them gain anything?

The general consensus from Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford, Adams County Commissioner Larry Pace, and a number of the city councilors in attendance is that the success of Major League Soccer in Colorado will be a success for the area's citizens.

René Bullock agrees, pointing out that "at no time did we ever pressure [City Manager Perry] VanDeventer. We told him if the deal is not going to be good for the City, walk away from it and don't feel bad. It might take longer to develop this area, but we will get it done."

"This will be the permanent home of the Colorado Rapids. The possibilities are endless," enthused Mayor Pro-Tem Debbie Mitchell about the partnership.

In his opening remarks, Mayor Sean Ford said, "What a huge addition in our community. This will bring people to Commerce City instead of City people going other places. It's a win-win situation, and the citizens are the ones who are going to win here."

KSE has already shown an understanding of the partnership. Ehrlich said that "normally we do all major announcements at the Pepsi Center, it's easier. But this isn't about the Pepsi Center. It's about Commerce City."

The structure of this private-public partnership reflects the commitment from both sides, with the City and KSE equally sharing financial responsibility for the $130 million project, and major public
road improvements being a critical component negotiated by the City.

A little more than a third of the 917 acres acquired by Commerce City will be used to create this regional sports powerhouse.

Both Quebec Street and 56th Avenue will be straightened, widened, and realigned to accommodate existing traffic concerns as well as the expected increase in traffic. And the emergence of perhaps a dozen or more elite youth soccer fields will be a major boon to an aging industrial city working hard to reinvent itself for the citizens who live there.

As Bullock pointed out, "This has got to work for the citizens. [This is] absolutely a 50-50 deal. Both parties are investing all their resources and time to make this deal work to benefit the people of Commerce City and the Rapids."

But what about the soccer team?
As the highest-level KSE representative on hand for today's announcement, David Ehrlich agreed that KSE has been somewhat quiet about their newly-acquired MLS soccer franchise, but expects that this will soon change.

"This week I am going to meet with the entire Rapids staff and say, 'Okay, it all starts today,'" Ehrlich said. "Because, with this announcement, we're building for the future starting right now."

Discussing plans for the Rapids organization, Ehrlich added, "We spent the first year [getting to know] everybody, to understand how things were going, to understand our current practice area and our current place where we play at Invesco.

"At the end of the year we're going to take stock, examine everything, look at what we did well, what we did poorly, and obviously try to improve what we did poorly.

"Obviously, on-the-field performance I leave to the experts, but we want to look at why are people enjoying our games now, why aren't they? Even at Invesco, although we don't control the venue, what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong? We're going to start that right now.

"[Today's announcement] will create a greater emphasis on the soccer team. For example, they have a current television provider, so we can't be too aggressive on that. That relationship will end, and once it does, assuming they come onto Altitude [Sports & Entertainment TV network], we're going to be very vocal about it.

"We want to make sure we build up great relations with people as we lead into this. This is very exciting. It will change the experience. It will make it a great experience, but we want to be sure they're excited about it going into it, not frustrated."


New teams in the Western Conference next year?
Commissioner Don Garber took time to speak with American Soccer News regarding league-wide discussions currently ongoing. His comments may indicate the potential opening for a shift in how the two-conference system is currently organized for MLS.

"We haven't resolved the Conferences yet," Garber said.

"Clearly we're working on that but we haven't finalized it yet. It's too early to talk about [whether we'll go away from the two-conference system]."

With a dreary tie against the Crew at home, Rapids fans hope the visiting Chicago Fire create a little smoke for tonight's game, 7:30 p.m. (MDT) kickoff at Invesco Field at Mile High.

BilFish can be reached at bilfish@cybersoccernews.com.
© Fisher/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2004


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