A fancy baseball stadium could be the major downtown anchor needed to kick revitalization efforts into high gear.
But it’s not the only possibility on the drawing board.
At the same time the city of Colorado Springs launched a survey to judge community sentiment about moving the Sky Sox minor-league baseball team into a new stadium downtown, two museum projects are waiting for the results of recent feasibility studies and a third is preparing for a major capital campaign within the next two years.
Within five years there could be a 60,000-square-foot science center, a 40,000-square-foot children’s museum and an Olympic museum downtown. Each museum project has a vast board of motivated people pushing it, dynamic leaders and years of research and preparation behind them.
“I think any one of them could be a tremendous anchor for downtown,” said Chuck Murphy, who owns Murphy Constructors and leads Mayor Steve Bach’s downtown solutions team. “Museums can be big. They’re great.”
The museums could be located anywhere, but current boards have decided to focus their efforts on downtown, primarily in the southwest near America the Beautiful Park.
“Museums have proven to be huge economic drivers in other downtowns,” said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership. “They can be huge, both in terms of attracting visitors as well as residents. When people make a day of going to a museum or a science center, they’re going to get in the habit of coming downtown more often.”
Museum leaders say the city is ripe for them. Colorado Springs is one of the few cities its size without a science center or children’s museum — yet, the Springs has higher education levels and median household incomes than a lot of similarly sized cities with successful museums.
“This is about a $50 million vision,” said Steve Rothstein, president of the Colorado Springs Science Center Project.
A science center in Colorado Springs would need to start out at about 60,000 square feet with some room to grow, he said. He pictures an iconic building with a distinct architectural style.
By conservative estimates, it would receive 300,000 to 500,000 visits a year. That’s just slightly fewer than the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s record 607,000 visitors in 2012. But it’s a realistic figure based on research, Rothstein said.
Only two of the 50 most-populous cities in the country don’t have a science center, said DeeAnn Rothstein, secretary and treasurer for the project and Steve’s wife. Those cities are Tulsa, Okla., and Colorado Springs.
“You can look at Tulsa and say, ‘OK, I get kinda get that,’” Steve said. “But not Colorado Springs.”
This city has a rich history in geology and mining, health and wellness and a current economy based on aerospace, technology and sports fitness. A science center seems like a natural fit.
The Rothsteins moved to Colorado Springs in 2007 to establish a science center here. They lived a nomadic lifestyle during Steve’s military career, never putting roots down anywhere.
When Steve, an Air Force Academy graduate, was about to retire, they started looking for what would come next and decided they wanted to find a community that didn’t have a science center and develop one.
Researching multiple cities, they contacted the Association of Science-Technology Centers and discussed their ideas and potential cities before they decided.
“The woman we talked to there said she had a big map of all the science centers in the country and Colorado Springs had a big question mark drawn across it,” Steve said. “No one understood why there wasn’t one here.”
The Rothsteins expected the science center to take seven to 15 years to complete and gave it two years to see if the community would get behind it.
“We’ve never felt like it was worth giving up on,” DeeAnn said.
And they’re about where they would have expected to be, especially given the economy, she said.
“This started out as the two of us,” she said. “But it’s much larger than that now.”
The project has a strong board and has found key community partnerships. BSCS, a major international science education curriculum company based in Colorado Springs, is talking about co-locating its offices in the Science Center, which provides a strong source of funding and a unique opportunity for collaboration.
“No other science center in the country has that kind of model,” Steve said. “That would make this a nationally significant science center. Think about what a nationally significant science center could mean for the city’s brand.”
Other fundraising opportunities exist in the many science-related businesses located here and all over the country, Steve said.
“Our goal is to create a more science-literate society,” DeeAnn said.
The group expects to launch a major capital campaign within the next two years and Steve said he hopes to open in 2017.
A group of parents has been working since 2005 to bring a children’s museum out of the ground in Colorado Springs. There was a lot of momentum behind the project until the economic crisis started in 2008.
“During the bad economy, we decided to lay low for a couple years,” said Jo Walker, museum board co-founder and president. “We didn’t feel it was the right time to launch a big capital campaign.”
Now, things are moving quickly. The board has grown and it’s waiting for the results of a feasibility study from the Denver-based Kellogg Organization, a fundraising consulting firm. The results, expected back in June, should give the board an idea of how much it can raise and how quickly.
The group’s original research suggested that Colorado Springs could support a 40,000-square-foot museum.
When the board first formed, Walker said it was considering a lot of different locations.
“After coming back, we knew we needed to establish a goal to be part of a downtown renaissance,” Walker said.
Most board members envision the museum adjacent to America the Beautiful Park.
“When you ask people, location is a tricky question,” Walker said. “Everyone wants it near them. But 90 percent of respondents to our initial feasibility study said they had been to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which is not easy to find or to get to for a lot of people.”
If a children’s museum is good, it will be worth a drive and a downtown location is preferable for a lot of reasons. It’s close to major roads like Interstate 25 and it can be included in larger conversations about downtown renewal.
“I want to make sure children have a seat at the table for these revitalization discussions,” Walker said. “Children are a huge economic engine. Parents and grandparents are willing to spend on children.”
She said that 35 percent of the country’s children’s museums have been at the heart of downtown revitalization efforts, and 65 percent of children’s museums are located in urban centers.
The possibility of building an Olympic museum has been discussed for several years, but it gained major momentum after the Urban Land Institute published a study on downtown Colorado Springs a year ago.
An Olympic museum would draw on the existing sports economy, the presence of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Olympic Training Center and 27 governing bodies. And it would be unique to the city.
Dick Celeste, former Colorado College president and former governor of Ohio, has taken on the project. It’s still developing, he said, and he hopes to be able to share more later in the summer.
He’s waiting on the results of an initial feasibility study from Dennis Barrie, who worked on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, a project that Celeste helped push to fruition as Ohio’s governor.
“One of the key matters we’re dealing with is coming up with a timeline that will work,” Celeste said.
All three museum projects see themselves downtown and they’re all gravitating toward America the Beautiful Park in the southwest corner.
“If we think about just building our museum, there are a lot of places we can go,” said Rich Hughes, a Pikes Peak Children’s Museum board member.
“But if you put that in the context of revitalizing downtown — you know — three is better than one. It becomes a cultural center rather than a neat museum.”
Each museum on its own could be an anchor, but all three together could be a major draw for the city.
Still, any conversations between the groups have been informal so far, project leaders said.
Edmondson said there could be opportunities to share some infrastructure, like parking.
But, she added, it will be difficult for the city to help when the projects might not all come to fruition at the same time.
While the timelines aren’t fixed, all three projects could begin major fundraising efforts within the next two years and will likely overlap.
“I think we’d probably not necessarily go to the same people,” Celeste said.
That’s because the projects are related, but still separate.
“There’s tremendous emphasis on the downtown right now,” Murphy said. “And there should be. This is probably one of the most opportune times I have ever seen in Colorado Springs.”