Orem Owlz to stay in Utah, Pueblo won’t play ball

The vision of a brand new baseball stadium in downtown Pueblo is gone just as quickly as it came. The Orem Owlz announced Monday the minor league team is staying in Utah.

“Previously, we announced a likely deal with the City and County of Pueblo, Colorado, to open a youth sports facility, multiple hotels and a new home for the Owlz,” owner Jeff Katofsky said in a statement. “I have always stated that it was a dream and goal of mine to have a youth sports facility for boys and girls to learn baseball, team sports and the leadership and athletic lessons that ensue. 

“It cautioned that the transaction was preliminary and there were a lot of details to finalize the deal. In the end, some within the City of Pueblo, as well as other related governmental agencies, were either unable or unwilling to consummate the written and oral promises that were made to our ownership groups.” 

Proponents of the team’s move envisioned building a brand new stadium near the Riverwalk by the beginning of the 2020 season. The plan included a $25 million multipurpose stadium for the team and two nearby hotels, which would be built by Katofsky and developers. 

Pueblo City Council president Chris Nicoll was particularly critical of the deal, saying that the YES project — as it was called — was a “NO” on Twitter over the weekend. He raised concerns about the cost of the project. Nicoll said the costs seemed to be ballooning. Other council members echoed those thoughts on Monday night during a council meeting, some saying the deal was a “house of cards.”

City and county leaders clashed on how to finance the deal and whether it should fall under the voter-approved 1A project list, which included the Riverwalk expansion and a youth sports park.

The project attracted media attention throughout negotiations, Katofsky allegedly suggested it was even the downfall of the deal.

Earlier on Monday the Pueblo Chieftain published an article claiming Katofsky said in an email the newspaper was partly to blame for the deal’s death. 

Last week the Chieftain wrongly reported the Owlz had backed out of the deal after an email from Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority president Jerry Pacheco circulated among city leaders. The Chieftain also wrote an editorial urging local leaders against using 1A money for the deal.