More than six years after his first dream of bringing professional soccer to Colorado Springs took flight, Martin “Ed” Ragain, the owner of the Switchbacks FC, stood, ceremonial shovel in hand, with members of his family, staff, and city dignitaries on a patch of dirt as ground was broken on the team’s new downtown stadium.
“A lot of people said this would never get done,” says Ragain, harkening back to that moment in December 2019, “because the city has never really fancied itself as kind of a big-league city. This is what you find in a big-league city, big-league stadiums, downtown stadiums. This is a dream. We consider ourselves very blessed.”
On May 21, 2021, the Switchbacks FC officially christen Weidner Field, a $35 million, 8,000-seat, multiuse stadium at the corner of Cimarron and Wahsatch streets in the rapidly developing southwest portion of downtown. Its completion is another highlight of the ambitious City of Champions endeavor that was put into motion in 2013 with the Regional Tourism Act of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, a state-run funding structure for attracting, constructing, and operating large-scale tourism projects.
Other City for Champions projects include the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center, U.S. Air Force Academy Gateway Visitor Center, and Robson Arena, the new on-campus hockey arena at Colorado College. The projects are funded by state and local tax financing, corporate sponsors, private donors, and naming rights and public/private partnerships.
In the case of the new downtown stadium, the Switchbacks FC continue a strong and prosperous partnership with Seattle-based Weidner Apartment Homes, which in 2014 spearheaded a $3 million renovation project to overhaul the original Weidner Field, a former city-owned park on the city’s east side, which hosted the USL Championship team’s games since 2015.
“Mr. [Dean] Weidner is a native of Colorado Springs and spent his formative years here,” says Greg Cerbana, Weidner’s vice president of government affairs. “This is a gift as we look at it, a result of his love for the area and people and his belief in the future of this city. We started as a sponsor, then it morphed into something great as we got naming rights on the old Weidner field (now a team practice site).
When the opportunity to come downtown happened, and we could leverage state funding into a real dream of City for Champions, Mr. Weidner wanted to support that.”
And as construction wrapped up, the renderings didn’t do justice to the new stadium.
“It’s much better than we first envisioned,” said Nick Ragain, team president and one of Martin’s six children, three of whom work in the team’s front office (also James, executive vice president, and Rachael, director of apparel). “The vision grew in the process, and we didn’t envision it would be this fantastic.”
Confluence of Sports, Culture, and Living
The City for Champions projects aren’t only about constructing eye-catching buildings and boosting the economy through tourism and special events, including Switchbacks FC home games. In the end, all of these enhancements to the downtown corridor are hoped to have a long-standing effect, a legacy to attract people to not only visit, invest, and work in downtown Colorado Springs, but to hang their hats there, too.
“I think the biggest thing you’re going to see in the future is that downtown is both a destination and a neighborhood,” says Susan Edmondson, the president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. “That’ll change the skyline but mostly change the vibrancy on the street level. Whether you’re coming here for a one-of-a-kind event or because you live here, the whole area will look dramatically different. We’ve heard for a long time this was coming. Now it finally is.”
According to the Partnership’s latest “State of Downtown” report, there were 1,837 residential units recently completed, under construction, or announced. As emphasized in the report, “Downtown continues to take shape as its own distinct neighborhood. Residents are lured by a walkable environment with access to nightlife, transit, dining, culture, and trails, making it easy to go from Downtown to downtime in no time.”
Local business consultant Laura Neumann, while reveling in the moment during a LeRoy Neiman art dedication on the stadium’s façade in April, was sure to recognize the past city movers and shakers who had the vision for projects like Weidner Field although well before the funding was available.
“We’ve known for years that downtown is the energy and heartbeat of a city,” says Neumann, whose clients include Weidner Apartment Homes. “It’s been nine years for City for Champions, but long before that, many had the vision, but we finally got traction. Now, just look around. In my opinion, arts, sports, and food can create a downtown environment that can be pretty special. And we’re finding that it’s not just the younger generation that wants to live downtown, but it’s those empty-nesters, too. They want to be part of the urban fabric of downtown. I think the potential of the future here is limitless.”
Soon, just south of Weidner Field, the Weidner name will begin to change the downtown skyline.
“Our goal is to be able to bring people here so they can work, live, and play,” says Cerbana, who says dirt will be moving later this year on a first phase of apartment homes, ultimately consisting of upward of 1,200 units. “We see a lot of good opportunities here. You have the opportunity right here, with the trail system and an outdoor-centric community. To be able to leverage that with a multiuse facility is going to be great. The prime tenant is soccer, but this was built purposely to be able to do multiple events with tournaments and concerts. We’re excited to see what will happen in the next few years.”