Triple Crown rolls into town

All eyes toward Hayden as tournaments' future, facilities face uncertainty

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— Beginning Monday, 120 girls softball teams from across the country will arrive in Northwest Colorado to kick off this summer's series of Triple Crown Sports baseball and softball tournaments.

The flow of Triple Crown athletes and their families will stay steady through August. Many of the families will turn the weekend tournaments into weeklong vacations. The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association estimates 32,000 Triple Crown-related visitors will come to the region this summer, and the organization's baseball and softball tournaments will pump nearly $10 million into the regional economy.

But it remains unclear whether Triple Crown's partnership with local municipalities will continue.

Triple Crown officials say their tournaments put on too many games for the limited facilities in the region.

"We're maxed out on what we can do up there," said Sean Hardy, Triple Crown's national baseball director. Hardy, echoing previous comments made by Triple Crown President Dave King, said the organization eventually will stop coming to Northwest Colorado if new fields are not made available soon.

More than half of Triple Crown tournament games are played at fields outside of Steamboat Springs. Hayden, Oak Creek and Craig host a large number of games. But many Triple Crown team members and their families stay in Steamboat condos and hotels.

Hardy said Steamboat would be an ideal location for a central facility to host the games, but he acknowledged how expensive land in the city is.

Nevertheless, recent work toward identifying a site for a regional sports complex pleases Triple Crown officials, Hardy said, and the organization has offered to extend its contract with Steamboat for another year. The current contract is set to expire in October 2007. The Steamboat Springs City Council is expected to consider the one-year contract extension during its meeting Tuesday.

"I think we're looking for progress," Hardy said. "It's everybody's sense that progress is being made. I think we're OK for a year extension."

But Steamboat no longer appears to be an option for building a regional sports complex that could host Triple Crown events. About 540 acres of developable land owned by Mary and Steve Brown was identified as a potential site for the complex, but the land may be under contract, and it is unclear whether the potential buyers have any interest in building the facility.

In the absence of land in Steamboat, attention has turned to a parcel in Hayden, 24 miles west of Steamboat.

Land for the taking

Hayden developer Ron Sills and his partners own a 120-acre parcel on the south side of Hayden that they have offered to donate for a regional sports complex.

"Steamboat has problems with Triple Crown right now, and Triple Crown is going to leave the area if we don't do something," Sills said last week.

Sills envisions new schools on each side of the complex. The schools would be on a 900-acre tract of land he is developing into a residential subdivision. Ground is being broken this week on the first phase of a project that will include 86 single-family homes. More than 2,000 homes potentially could be built on the 900-acre site. Sills also is in the process of getting approval to build two hotels and a lumberyard on the west side of Hayden.

Sills thinks the land he is offering for the sports complex should be factored in to the amount of open space required in new Hayden developments.

"The town is going to get more of the benefit than I am," Sills said. "I think it will help my development, obviously."

"I believe Hayden is for this. I think it's good for Hayden."

Sills, who with his partners owns about 2,600 hundred acres of land around Hayden, has a vested interest in seeing Hayden grow. He sees a regional sports complex as key to that growth.

"When a town becomes stagnant, it has a tendency to go backward and die," Sills said.

The waiting game

Most Hayden town officials are hesitant to say whether they support a regional sports complex in their town. They say they first want to see a solid proposal and understand the full effect of such a complex.

Many unanswered questions remain.

Sills has offered the land and water rights, but it is unclear who would pay to build and maintain the facility. The estimated cost of a complex in Hayden is $9.3 million.

"As far as I'm concerned, all they have to do for me is prove that it's going to be a positive thing," Hayden Mayor Joe Schminkey said. "And I haven't seen a lot of information about it."

Also unclear is how Hayden residents feel about a regional sports complex in their backyards. The town's Triple Crown experience to date has been limited to the games that are played throughout the summer weekends on Hayden Valley Elementary School's two fields.

"It's split," Schminkey said. "Some people don't want to see it because it's Triple Crown. They're afraid they're going to have all the liability and not the assets."

Some residents already have made up their minds based on the amount of traffic, trash and noise they say the weekend games produce.

At a May 4 Hayden Town Board meeting, a short discussion was held about a committee being formed to look at the economic effects of a regional sports complex.

Trustee Ken Gibbon said he was against a sports complex coming to Hayden, and he said he knew a lot of other residents who were against it, too. Gibbon later said he is trying to keep an open mind about the issue.

Hayden Food Mill restaurant owner Kevin Montgomery said Triple Crown crowds can be a boon to business. But it also creates a guessing game when it comes to employee staffing.

Sometimes, Montgomery said, mothers of Triple Crown players serve cold-cut sandwiches out the back of their trucks. Other times, the restaurant is slammed with multiple teams who have a short amount of time to eat.

"It's kind of hard to handle," Montgomery said.

Meanwhile, work is under way to prepare Hayden's two baseball fields for this summer's games. Triple Crown has spent $50,000 this year improving fields in Hayden and Oak Creek. About $15,000 was spent on new infield dirt mix, and Triple Crown also paid for new sod.

"It's a huge difference," Hayden Parks and Recreation Director J.D. Paul said about the improved field conditions.

Part of the process

It's unknown when a sports complex proposal might come before the Hayden Town Board, but a process is in place to help town officials make an informed decision. An economic impact study will be one of the main tools used.

Triple Crown officials are looking for progress, and they hope to have a draft of the economic impact study completed by October.

The Yampa Valley Economic Development Council has taken charge of exploring the feasibility of a sports complex in the region. The council is composed of representatives from Routt, Moffat, and Rio Blanco counties as well as officials from Steamboat Springs, Craig and Hayden.

"Right now, the elected officials don't feel like they have the information as far as the costs and economic impact to provide an educated decision," said Winnie DelliQuadri, administrative coordinator for the YVEDC.

A YVEDC subcommittee composed of seven representatives has been established to oversee the impact study.

The scope of the study has been determined, and bids for the study are being accepted throughout Hayden.

"The bottom line is: What will it cost the community, and what revenue will it bring in?" DelliQuadri said.

The study is expected to cost between $25,000 and $35,000. Hayden has $2,000 budgeted for the study. Steamboat is expected to pay most of the costs.

The study will include:

Projections of spending patterns by Triple Crown visitors in the region

Sales tax revenue projections

Estimating the costs of building and operating the sports complex

Estimating what the impact would be if Triple Crown no longer came to the region

Studying the effects of increased traffic, noise, parking and lighting

Hayden officials hope the study will answer their questions.

"I'm not convinced, one way or another, but prove to me by preponderance of evidence that this is a good project, and we will go from there," Schminkey said.

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