Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC owner Ed Ragain (second from left)was one of the driving forces in the creation of the club's new soccer-specific stadium, set to open for the 2021 USL Championship season. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Spri
ORLANDO, Fla. – Surveying the scene as the cameras clicked and the assembled guests – including Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Richard Skorman – socialized and took their turns taking photos with supporters to commemorate the occasion, there was an immeasurable sense of pride swelling up inside Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC owner Ed Ragain.
The groundbreaking ceremony that served as the prelude to construction of the club’s new 8,000-seat downtown stadium wasn’t just a testament to how far the Switchbacks had come in the community over their first five years, but also a tent post for what Ragain believes Colorado Springs can become in the future.
“[It was] a historic moment for Colorado Springs and we got to participate in that,” said Ragain, humbly, at the recent USL Winter Summit. “The City Council President was one of those guys with a shovel, the Mayor was one of those guys with a shovel, our partners Weider [were] there, so all the big players in town, everybody recognizes what it was to be part of that event, and in 20 years when we look back this is going to be one of those turning points that has created a situation for a small town to really become a professional city.”
The smiling faces on the stage that night in December were the result of almost six years of work by Ragain and the Switchbacks organization. In that time, not only were they able to secure the opportunity for their then-fledging USL Championship club, but also to ensure that their vision of the project – part of a larger $2.25 billion mixed used development now under construction in Colorado Springs – came to be.
Leaders from Colorado Springs and the USL joined the Switchbacks for the groundbreaking ceremony for their new downtown stadium this past December. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
After a year of talks with local politicians, plans were unveiled at the groundbreaking for a stadium located in the southwest section of downtown Colorado Springs that will provide one of the best backdrops to a game in the Championship, living up to the league’s goal of providing fans the best possible in-stadium experience across the country.
Ragain’s experience in stadium construction as a co-founder of ME Engineers – which over the years has been instrumental in the arrival of not only Mile High Stadium, Coors Field and the Pepsi Center in nearby Denver, but has also been part of major worldwide projects including England’s famed Wembley Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium – helped guide the direction of the stadium.
So did the input of Colorado Springs native Dean Weidner, whose additional investment alongside the money received for the project from the state helped make the broader City for Champions project a reality.
The venue’s location is also going to be a major plus for the club overall as it looks to continue its growth in the market. While results on the field haven’t always gone the Switchbacks’ way in recent years, the club has seen consistent year-on-year growth in the stands, setting a new high each year of its existence.
The visibility the new stadium is going to bring among those who live, work and commute to and from the city each day has the potential to continue that upswing.
“About 25-to-30,000 people commute every day from the county to the city and all of that crowd will now be looking at graphics and logos during construction that’s going to scream ‘Switchbacks!’” said Ragain. “We’ve already seen an uptick in our social media, which is a big element in our marketing, and I think it’s just going to continue to grow.”
And as has been evident during the construction of Louisville City FC’s new Lynn Family Stadium, which will open this April, those driving through Colorado Springs are going to have their own daily reminders of what’s happening as the steel and brick starts to rise out of the ground.
“We think even when they start erecting steel, that’s going to be another level of, ‘hey, this is happening,’ said Ragain.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC's new 8,000-seat stadium will be part of a part of a larger $2.25 billion mixed used development that is now under construction. | Graphic courtesy Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
The project is part of a recent surge of stadium development across the USL landscape with Louisville set to open in 2020, the Switchbacks and Charlotte Independence set to move into new venues in 2021, and OKC Energy FC having secured funding for its new home through the MAPS4 project this December. With other projects popping up Statesboro, Georgia, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Providence, Rhode Island – among others – many clubs across the Championship and League One are looking to the Switchbacks for guidance on how to get their own stadium project across the line.
For those groups, Ragain believes taking the club’s message individually to city decision-makers made an important difference. In giving each representative on the City Council a chance to weigh in on the final plan and ensuring everyone’s needs – including those of the club – were accounted for, the Switchbacks secured strong backing to make the project happen.
“As long as everybody understood what the bigger picture was, I think we were able to develop a strategy that brought on board everybody’s interest,” Ragain said. “When it went to a City Council vote it was a 9-0 vote in favor of the stadium. It really spoke to all the lead-up time, prep time that was one-on-one over the period of about a year in order for that to be successful.”
Ragain believes Colorado Springs will now reap the rewards of that decision, which will provide a bright future for the Switchbacks and the opportunity for the city to open people’s eyes to what the city has to offer.
“I think a lot of cities out there want to see their communities grow in a smart, sustainable way,” said Ragain. “Soccer can be a catalyst for that. The sport has a great story behind it, and an ongoing story that speaks to growth. How do you get people travelling, how do you get people interested in coming back? I think soccer does that. It’s entertainment at the highest level.”