By Cliff Foster
The land south of West Colfax Avenue and west of Rio Court near the Auraria Campus is vacant now, with little more than chest-high weeds and aging utility poles.
But by next year, Metro State will begin a makeover of the site, eventually turning this overgrown patch into a multimillion-dollar athletic facility, with tennis courts and fields for baseball, soccer and more.
Metro State, the Auraria Higher Education Center, the Community College of Denver, and the University of Colorado Denver bought the 13.5 acres in 2008 for $16.5 million. Earlier this month, the Metro State Board of Trustees approved a deal that gives the College a greater stake in the land and paves the way for phased development of the property.
The deal stems from a separate plan to supply the growing campus with more electricity. “At the time we built the science building, we knew that we were going to need to upgrade the utilities to the campus because of campus expansion, and other infrastructure upgrades, but we never expanded our utilities. We knew we were going to have to do something,” says Natalie Lutes, vice president for administration, finance and facilities.
So, under the tri-institutional arrangement the schools had to proceed with the badly needed $3 million utility project. Due to the urgency, Metro State agreed to initially front the entire cost and develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which CCD and UCD would reimburse Metro State the following year.
“As we were creating this $3 million agreement,” Lutes explains, “it came to our attention that neither CCD nor UCD wanted to be involved with that land. It wasn’t going to benefit their students exactly, and the amount of money they would have put into the land by the end of June 2013 would have been about the $1.5 million they owed us” for the power project.
UCD and CCD will continue to make payments on the land until June 2013 when Metro State will take over their obligations and gain 50 percent ownership along with Auraria. In return, Metro State will get first priority use of the land. It also has all naming rights to facilities it builds there and can charge other parties that want to use the property. It also gives the College the right of first refusal if Auraria wants to bow out.
It is estimated that the deal will cost Metro State an additional $6.2 million on top of the College’s share of the initial land purchase. This is not counting the new tennis courts and fields. “We should have our share paid off by the school year 2027,” Lutes says, “although we are hoping that we will pay that off quite a bit before then.”
There is no detailed timetable to build on the property but there is a certain amount of urgency.
“We can now move forward with the development of the land, which is exactly what the other two institutions would like us to do quickly,” Lutes says.
The plan calls for six tennis courts to be in place by the fall 2012 semester with two more added later. Timing for the baseball and soccer/recreation fields, which will probably be state-of-the-art artificial turf, remains fluid. “Those will be phased in,” and a timeline will be set over the next few months, says Athletic Director Joan McDermott. Softball will take over the baseball field when it moves to the new property and there will be room for club and intramural sports.
Adrianne Almaraz, women’s head soccer coach and a 2005 management graduate, says the project will bring some much-needed breathing room. Currently, the same turf is shared by men’s and women’s soccer, softball and some Metro State classes.
“It is a huge deal,” says Almaraz, a member of the Roadrunners’ 2004 national champion team. “We have to share all the space with each other…so being able to kind of have our own area as well as getting some locker room and hopefully getting stadium facilities for soccer will bring a whole new environment to athletics and to women’s soccer.”
And to the whole campus as well.
“I think it would be beneficial to everyone, not just athletics,” says Jerrid Oates, head baseball coach.
One estimate put the price tag at $12 million for the fields and tennis courts, but McDermott says, “It’s very difficult to say if that’s the correct amount. Now we need to hire an architect to really get to work on this. So then, once that happens, we’ll have a better idea on how much it costs.”Adds Lutes: “Our immediate need is to raise the funds to actually build” the new baseball and soccer fields and tennis courts…“We’re hoping we can generate a lot of that from private sources.”
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