It hasn’t been announced, but it’s all but certain that the Colorado Eagles will be promoted from the ECHL to participate in the American Hockey League’s impending western expansion—perhaps as soon as the 2018-19 season—and become the Colorado Avalanche’s top minor league affiliate. The move would be significant for a franchise that’s struggled with player development throughout its history. At long last, the team now appears committed to building from within under the close watch of management instead of banishing its draft picks to a remote locale like Hershey, Pennsylvania until they can be traded for NHL assets.
But the AHL is a big step up from the relatively fringe ECHL. It’s the final development stage for just about every prospect in hockey, and its teams play (mostly) at top-flight facilities throughout the United States and Canada. The Avalanche’s current affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, for instance, play at the AT&T Center, an 18,000-plus-capacity arena that also hosts the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. The club’s previous affiliate, the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters, host their games 20,000-plus-capacity Quicken Loans Arena, an arena they share with LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Pundits everywhere—including many on this website—have believed the Eagles to be a natural fit to step into this role for years, with one major caveat: the almost-rural 5,289-seat Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, CO they currently call home.
So how will this work, exactly?
News surfaced Monday via the Huffington Post that Denver’s plans to reshape its northern Interstate-70 corridor might have A LOT more going on behind the scenes than just a multi-billion-dollar highway and National Western Complex renovation.
“Unbeknownst to most Coloradans, and cited by a participant at the February 16 meeting, has been a quiet years-long effort to bring the Winter Olympics to Colorado, also significantly impacting I-70 expansion plans. A City document titled Master Plan for the National Western Center lays out extensive plans for the current National Western Stock Show complex to accommodate two large arenas and sports facilities, as well as Olympic venues and temporary housing. Facilities include: ‘Ice capability for hockey...a possible Winter Olympics bid’ and ‘Accommodate potential for Olympic long track speed skating oval.’”
Now that would be news to many Coloradoans, who famously rejected the 1976 Winter Olympics by voter referendum over concerns of cost overruns and environmental impact—the only city in the history of the event, summer or winter, to do so. But Denver is a vastly different place now than it was more than 40 years ago. The metropolitan area has more than quadrupled in the time since and is badly in need of the housing and infrastructure investments that commonly follow successful Olympic bids. Coincidently, the 2026 Winter Olympics has also yet to be awarded, and there aren’t many places in the world as well-equipped to host such an event.
It might also explain how the city is attempting to pay to overhaul this mostly dilapidated and destitute stretch of land just north of downtown (much of which is a designated Superfund site and recently cited as the most polluted zip code in America). Contrary to your average argument against the Olympic Games, most of it is generally not funded by tax dollars, but rather a complex web of fundraising and public-private partnerships that help cities develop underutilized land and real estate developers invest in projects often well below market value.
So, who’s a private real estate developer who really, really likes building large-scale sports facilities? Oh, yeah—Stan Kroenke, owner of the Colorado Avalanche, last seen successfully moving an NFL football team to Los Angeles for the first time in 23 years against all odds. Stan loves building stadiums. It’s kind of his thing. And this opportunity seems to align rather nicely with his other business interests.
On the map below, you will notice not one, but two areas designated for arenas. One is the run-down Denver Coliseum, the 1951-built former home of the Denver Rockets/Nuggets, Denver Spurs—and most recently the Central Hockey League’s Denver Cutthroats. The arena currently holds around 10,000 people and it’s not difficult to conjure a scenario where this building is re-imagined into a modern multi-purpose facility—with luxury suites and a few thousand more seats—that can host concerts, an Olympic “B” arena and, well, minor league hockey.
But that’s not even the only option being considered on this dusty plot of land. Another new arena is slated to be constructed on the site, which could very well be used for similar purposes. Of course, one of these will likely be used for showing off cattle, or whatever the current facility functions as, but within half a decade, we could be seeing a number of fantastic options for the Colorado Eagles in the heart of the city and mere miles from management’s offices in the Pepsi Center.
It almost makes too much sense for everyone involved.