By Dan England
Damian Foley takes a walk around the grounds of Future Legends at least once a week, whether it’s to lead a tour or snap a photo for social media.
“In that week,” he says, “it looks like they’ve done months of work.”
Foley is director of marketing and communications, so that’s exactly what he’s supposed to say. But Foley is a Brit, not some overexcited American: If you’ve seen “Ted Lasso,” he could be one of the fans. He’s measured, with just enough of that British skepticism to balance out those words.
He really means it, then, when he says he’s excited about the progress. It’s hard to blame him: At one point, people wondered if it would ever happen.
If Foley is excited, just imagine what Windsor’s feeling. Well, let’s let Michelle Vance tell you. She is executive director of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce AND VISITOR’S BUREAU. They added that part JUST for Future Legends, and with good reason: They expect the development to bring in more than a million new visitors a year at the start—yep, a million—and that should grow to two million.
Everything, including two new hotels, should be finished by Spring 2023, but there are already significant developments moving much faster than that: A pro soccer team with games broadcast on ESPN will have a season this year and will play games at the stadium, which should be open by July. By the time you read this, soccer players are already in town. An independent but pro baseball team managed by former Cleveland Indians star Cory Snyder will play this summer. By this fall, nearly all of the operation should be running. They may even host a concert in the arena by then.
“We want to be a full-blown visitors center,” Vance says. “We are positioning ourselves and changing our name to prepare for that.”
When asked why they didn’t do that sooner, Vance laughs.
“Think about who we compete with,” Vance says. “We compete with Estes Park or I-70. People aren’t thinking of going to Windsor for a vacation.”
One of Windsor’s problems, in fact, was the slim offerings for people to stay, Vance says, but that will change when Future Legends adds the two hotels. Those hotels alone, she says, a Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn, will be a game changer.
The whole project, in fact, seems a little too good to be true, after a series of starts and stops that began five years ago, when another team proposed building a huge sports complex that excited a lot of folks but failed, like a ninth inning rally that falls a run short. But it’s here now, and Windsor can actually compete with Estes Park’s mountains, elk and downtown fudge.
“Our businesses will have an opportunity to market to a whole new clientele,” Vance says. “That helps everyone. And the best part is tourists make a deposit, and then they go home.”
Perhaps the most difficult challenge facing the ownership team of the Katofsky family and Ryan Spilborghs for their Future Legends project didn’t have much to do with water, land or financing when plans were announced. It was skepticism.
Future Legends planned to build what for Northern Colorado amounted to a sports Disney World. They hoped to build a stadium to bring in a professional baseball team as well as both a men’s and women’s professional soccer team, and that same stadium could be converted into a 15,000-seat concert arena or events center when needed. That was already a kind of Epcot Center, but they also wanted a college stadium, additional fields for youth tournaments that would attract thousands of kids per event, dorms for those kids to stay in and those two hotels for everyone else, in addition to restaurants and specialty retail stores mostly for sports equipment and souvenirs.
It sounded great, but the problem was, similar plans were announced more than five years ago by developers of the so-called Rocky Mountain Sports Park. The president, Mike Billadeau, even called it a “Disneyland for youth athletes.” If that wasn’t enough hyperbole—honestly, it probably was—they also called the 413-acre site near Harmony Road and Interstate 25 the “world’s largest sports park” and promised competitive baseball and softball tournaments with players from as far away as Japan.
It didn’t happen. Residents in the area fought it from the start, citing concerns about traffic, noise and secrecy around the project. Billadeau was investigated for fraud before he was cut from the project.
Spilborghs was a part of that group, too, and even when he essentially did a do-over, joining up with the Katofskys and picking a new location in the heart of Windsor that shouldn’t bother residents, even his good name, sports hero persona and handsome face as a Rockies broadcaster didn’t stop people shaking their heads at what some considered the foolishness of it all. A host of problems once they began didn’t help either, including an investigation by the USDA into a historic ditch that may be on the property that delayed the project by eight months.
“As long-term projects get discussed, and this came up years ago, people lose faith in these projects,” Vance says.
But now Vance has an answer to all that skepticism: She has a drawing in her office that, she says, blows people’s minds. And that drawing, just like a Disney sketch that becomes a cartoon, has come to life.
Still pretty huge
The project isn’t the behemoth it once was. It’s now 118 acres, for instance, and the stadium, at 6,000 seats, is half the size of the other project. But it’s also, like, actually happening, and it’s still designed to bring in thousands to play tournaments, leagues and events, watch pro soccer (both men’s and women’s) and baseball and even host college sports. It’s still going to have multipurpose turf fields, indoor and outdoor diamond fields, an indoor dome, a field for athletes with disabilities (named Miracle Field), volleyball courts and the pro stadium.
The Katofsky family acquired the land from the Town of Windsor back in 2018, just a year after the other project went down in flames, and the rights to the project as well. The Katofskys had a good track record, says Casey Katofsky, Future Legends’ executive director and the son of Jeff, the CEO. They had built big projects, such as hotels and even a stadium, operating under different corporate names. Still, this project was daunting, which is why the skepticism didn’t bother them.
“This is the biggest project we’ve done by far,” Casey says. “We’ve never done all of this in one place. Nobody has.”
Northern Colorado was the perfect place for their ambitions, he says, and Windsor is in the heart of Northern Colorado. The area is a bit out of the way—it’s located north of Eastman Park Drive and east of Colo. 257—but Casey sees that as a plus because, despite its size, it feels more like a community project instead of just another development off I-25.
“This area was untapped,” he says. “This will be the new downtown in the next five years. It was a no-brainer.”
By untapped, he’s also referring to the dearth of professional sports in the area, aside from the Eagles, the successful minor league hockey team playing at the Budweiser Events Center. The Eagles were an inspiration: They sell out many games. Some would say that’s because the Eagles have won titles, but Casey sees it as an affirmation that residents want sports.
The Northern Colorado Hailstorm will play in the United Soccer League’s third division, called USL League One. The league has teams in North and South Carolina, among others. The USL bills itself as the largest professional soccer organization in North America and models itself after international football with its tiered league structure. League One is a step below its Championship League, essentially where Ted Lasso’s team fell after his first year as head coach. But it’s also not League Two, a development league much like the kind in the NBA. Officials expect Hailstorm games to be broadcast on ESPN’s network. Typically, teams draw up to 5,000 people a game.
The Northern Colorado Owlz play in the new Pioneer League, a “partner league” of Major League Baseball with eight teams, and come from Orem, Utah, where they played since 2005. The schedule begins in late May and ends in early September. The league is supposed to act as a way for MLB to keep its footing in the West and features teams from Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Missoula and Billings, among other places.
The youth tournaments will help kickstart fan support, as participating kids will get a free ticket to a game, Casey says, which should add some nationwide excitement to the loyal fans in Windsor who should show up even this year.
“You will have kids coming from all over the country,” Casey says, “and they will remember going to a game and maybe they want to follow them as a result. That grows over time.”
Future Legends may also change Northern Colorado’s live music scene, at least in terms of bringing in world-renowned acts outside of the Greeley Stampede or the Cheyenne Frontier Days. The stadium will hold 15,000 for a concert or event, or three times the size of the Budweiser Events Center.
Budweiser has brought in some big acts—Snoop Dogg, Sarah McLachlan, Judas Priest, David Bowie, Ghost and Cirque de Soleil are just a few through the years—but a 15,000-seat arena could attract some of the largest acts to ever come to Northern Colorado. Casey says he expects the same name recognition as the iconic Red Rocks.
“We aren’t Red Rocks,” Casey says. “But look at the acts that come there. We will have acts that compare to Red Rocks.”
Vance, through her brand-new visitors center, hopes to work with Future Legends, as well as the Town of Windsor, to figure out transportation and other potential problems that could turn residents against it. Maybe trollies could be a solution, she says.
“We are looking at all alternatives,” Vance says.
As for Casey, he plans to stay, even if, in the past, he and his father traveled around to build projects all over the country.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to accomplish,” he says. “I’ve lived here for two years and built a house with my partner. I’m not going anywhere.”
The project, as of mid-January, was 70 percent done, and he’s proud to see a natural skepticism replaced by a buzz that Windsor’s never experienced before.
“People are asking when they can get tickets and when the restaurants are opening and a lot more fun questions,” Casey says. “Most people are really excited now.”