Packaged within the University of Colorado athletic department's ambitious $143 million facilities expansion plan are elements that athletic director Rick George says could be game-changers not just for his department, but for the Boulder business community.
George said he remains optimistic that CU will break ground on the project by the target date of May 12.
In addition to a high-performance sports medicine center that would be open to the public and a collection of retail spaces along the south side of Folsom Field, the expansion would result in four meeting and conference spaces.
"We believe that these meeting spaces will help serve some of (the city's event space) needs, but it will not take the place of a bigger convention center," George said. "It will allow us to attract medium and smaller meetings and conferences."
According to plans, one of those clubs — at 9,900 square feet — would be among the biggest meeting spaces in Boulder and could attract larger events that are now hosted outside city limits, tourism officials say.
"We watch retail bleed and hotel bleed (from the city of Boulder), and I think the region has become stronger in business travel and group travel," said Mary Ann Mahoney, executive director of the Boulder Convention & Visitors Bureau. "But there are always a lot of national groups that we haven't been able to reach."
The efforts are intended to generate revenue for CU athletics on non-game days and to bolster the city's sales tax collections, George said.
"I think it's going to be a significant opportunity," he said.
The details of that opportunity, however, are a bit hazy.
Aspects of the plans — including the size of the meeting and retail spaces — continue to be tweaked on a weekly basis, George said. Additionally, what types of businesses and organizations CU is courting, the pricing and accessibility of the meeting spaces, the extent of city and local business involvement, and the projected annual revenue generated from the project all remain unclear at this point.
George indicated earlier this month that revenue projections could be available later in April. He said via e-mail last week that the pro forma is still in progress.
"This is still a moving target as we are still in process of determining our spaces both for meetings, conferences, events and for potential retail spaces," George said. "We should complete this pro forma by the end of May to meet our budget timelines."
His department is "well over halfway" in meeting the CU Board of Regents' requirement that one-third of the $143 million be raised for construction to commence. The balance of the project's costs is expected to come from the sale of bonds.
The over-arching goals of the project — which also includes a 120,000-square-foot indoor multipurpose practice facility on Franklin Field and a refurbishment of the Dal Ward Athletic Center — are to attract and better the health of students and athletes; increase CU's competitiveness and abilities to win championships; and to help the department become more fiscally responsible.
The CU athletic department is more than $21 million in debt, and officials have said they expect an additional $3.9 million shortfall this fiscal year. The revenue generated from the facilities expansion will be used to pay off that debt, pay back the bonds raised for the project and also be reinvested in the sports teams and programs, George said.
George came to CU last summer from the Texas Rangers, where he served as chief operating officer and president of business operations. In his nearly three-year tenure, the Rangers notched record sales and sponsorship revenue, officials for the organization have said.
During his time in Arlington, Texas, George spearheaded initiatives at Globe Life Park that included the addition of the Batter's Eye Club, a 6,250-square-foot indoor space at the top of Greene's Hill in center field; the Capital One Club, a private club on the mezzanine behind home plate; and the Captain Morgan Club, a two-level, Rangers-themed restaurant and bar.
The facilities, which could be rented out on non-game days, were built to boost sales for the organization, George said.
He sees similar revenue-generating potential at Folsom Field in Boulder.
The proposed high-performance sports center will be open to the public and also host collaborative research projects in areas such as brain trauma and concussions.
"We'll partner with somebody in the community as well as CU Sports Medicine," he said. "We don't have anything, in my opinion, like it in this community."
Planned along the southern side of Folsom will be about 12,000 square feet of retail space. George said he envisions a combination of local businesses and national firms to open shops, restaurants and service-oriented operations such as a bank.
George sees the bulk of the non-game-day revenue coming from the club and meeting room spaces. These include the Touchdown Club, a roughly 9,900-square-foot space near the north end zone; the Champions Club, a planned 4,000-square-foot space; an expanded Stadium Club and a new rooftop terrace.
At that size, the Touchdown Club would be able to host events for more than 1,000 people at a time.
By comparison, some of the largest venues in Boulder include CU's Macky Auditorium, at 14,000 square feet; the Elks Lodge, at 10,000 square feet; and the Glenn Miller Ballroom, at 9,400 square feet.
CU recently hired Levy Restaurants, which provides food service to places such as the Pepsi Center, to serve as the facility's concessionaire, George said.
"We envision a variety of businesses — local, regional and national," George said of the users. "Those that want to have off-site meetings, clinics, conferences, etc., and hold those in a town like Boulder that offers so much once their business for the day is concluded."
Noting that the existing Stadium Club is in use about 30 to 40 percent of the year, George said there is plenty of room to improve the active use of the facilities.
A potential need
If George's plans move along as expected, the additional meeting spaces could come on line as the city increases its hotel room stock. Several new hotels have been proposed at places such as Boulder Junction and along Canyon Boulevard.
With a "healthy" occupancy rate of about 70 percent, Boulder's hospitality industry is in a prime place to expand and potentially benefit from pent-up demand, said the Convention & Visitors Bureau's Mahoney.
"We have had such little development over several years, both in hospitality meeting spaces and hotels," she said.
Mahoney said she hopes her office can work closely with CU in coordinating and attracting group meetings and conferences.
"They have, in their minds, some programming that will fit into this as well," she said. "In our realm, we would like to see if it's available year-round, what types of conferences could work. We would need to work with our partner hotels and determine how many rooms could we secure for the space and event."
David Rubin, who manages A Spice of Life catering and event center in Boulder, said the proposed size of CU's Touchdown Club could allow the city to recapture events put on by organizers such as the March of Dimes and Special Olympics.
"You bring a 9,900-square-foot ballroom to the city of Boulder, and watch how many people come to fill it," he said.
Boulder-based USA Rugby hosts about three or four meetings annually in Boulder, and twice that amount nationally in a rotation of locations. Attendees of those meetings range from 20 to 30 people for the smaller gatherings and 200 to 300 people for the larger events, said Jim Snyder, director of rugby operations for the national association.
"That said, when we do come to Boulder, we sort of struggle to find appropriate space based on what we're looking at," said Snyder, who also coaches the CU Rugby club team. "If there were good and new, quality meeting spaces ... I think it would be great, and it would probably entice us to hold some meetings we move around the country here."
Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or email@example.com.