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 October 8, 1999

Mammoth sports ‘bubble’ planned

LONGMONT — A coated-fabric bubble rising seven stories and enclosing almost three acres of soccer fields, track facilities and a seven-story climbing wall will rise above the southwest Weld County landscape if developers get approval.

The giant bubble likely will be built by the same firm that erected the canopy above Denver International Airport and will dwarf an adjacent 27,000-square-foot, two-story building that would serve as headquarters for the Center for Athletic Performance.

“It will be visible. That’s for sure,´ said Mark Bechtholdt, vice president for marketing of Sun Construction and Design Services. The Longmont builder plans to spend $8.5 million on the bubble-building complex on a 10-acre site at Vista Commercial Center, two miles west of Interstate 25, just south of Colo. Hwy. 119.

If the bubble inflates, it could be the first in a nationwide chain of such sports centers catering to a clientele that ranges from elite athletes to soccer tykes, Bechtholdt said.

Weld County planners and a commissioner said that the approval process could be a speedy one despite the center’s size and unusual character.

“The enormity of this — it takes a while to get your breath back,´ said Weld County commissioner Glenn Vaad, in whose district the project lies. “But I can see some benefits here. … I can see that parking lot full of soccer moms and dads every afternoon and every weekend.”

Vaad said that development of business parks and adjacent housing along the I-25 corridor has been criticized because project managers have failed to meet recreational and entertainment needs of a new population. The sports-center proposal, for that reason, was likely to be viewed favorably in the approval process.

“The whole time things have been developing in the MUD (mixed-use development) areas, people have been saying that we’re not providing amenities for people,” Vaad said. “This has that quality. It provides recreational opportunities, and that is a plus.”

The vast, air-supported, Teflon-coated “roof” of the bubble likely will be installed by New York-based Birdair Corp., best known regionally for the DIA canopy, but known globally for domes at sports stadiums, shopping centers and other all-weather complexes. Birdair has not yet committed to the project, but Bechtholdt said he expected a decision before the end of the month. “If it’s not them, there are certainly lots of other companies that do this,” he said.

The Center for Athletic Performance Inc. is a partnership of three Longmont men, two of whom have elite sports backgrounds. Principal partners are Tim McIntyre, who trains highest-level track athletes, and Steve Brittenham, son of former University of Colorado track coach and New England Patriots trainer Dean Brittenham. Ron Olson lends business know-how to the partnership.

The project would bring young athletes and sports clubs together with athletes who compete at the highest levels, Bechtholdt said.

In addition to the indoor soccer fields, which Bechtholdt said would become a huge regional drawing card for the center, the bubble would also enclose an 80-foot wide, 180-foot-long inline hockey rink; four volleyball courts; pitching and batting cages; a three-lane, 270-meter track and pits for pole vault, high jump and long jump.

But the 70-foot-tall climbing wall got the immediate attention of Weld County planner Ben Patton, himself a climber.

“I’ve done some climbing, and I’ve worked out at a place in Fort Collins with a 40-foot wall,” Patton said. “It’s hard to imagine 70 feet.”

The accompanying building will house a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art weight-training center, a sports-medicine suite, racquetball courts, a food court and a 1,000-square-foot, second-story balcony providing a perch above the dome floor.

Soccer fields would be covered with a new synthetic turf hybrid called Astro-Play, Bechtholdt said. “It has a rubber base — soft, spongy,” he said.

Because the proposed site of the complex is with a mixed-use development with Weld County Commercial 3 zoning, the project approval could come as soon as 45 days after submission, Patton said.

Denver architectural firm RNL Design has submitted concept plans for the county’s review, and a formal development application should come by the end of September.

Vaad said the only snag the project might encounter during the county’s review stems from the sheer size of the bubble enclosure. “What are you going to do with all this water during a big rainstorm?” Vaad asked. “That’s a serious issue, all this water that’s going to be coming off the top of the bubble. They’ll have to plan for that.”

To say nothing of snow: Bechtholdt said RNL is pondering how to accommodate the snow that the 2.8-acre dome will shed, some of it onto the two-story building below the bubble. He told of a top tennis player, training at an indoor tennis complex at a Colorado mountain resort, who was warned not to park her car next to the snow-covered bubble.

“This was a much smaller structure,” Bechtholdt said. “But when the snow let go, it all came down. When she came out, her car was just crushed.” The proposed complex plans parking for 300 cars — all well away from the air-supported bubble roof.

The indoor soccer fields, each enclosed by rigid side walls, would be an immediate hit with Northern Colorado soccer organizations, Bechtholdt predicts.

“The soccer leagues are ready for this,” he said. “The coaches love the idea. The kids get more practices and more touches on the ball. That’s just what the coaches want.”

Bechtholdt said the complex could open as soon as next summer, assuming the review process moves forward quickly.

“Once we’ve done what we need to do, the Birdair people have said they can come in here and have the bubble up in eight days,” he said.

LONGMONT — A coated-fabric bubble rising seven stories and enclosing almost three acres of soccer fields, track facilities and a seven-story climbing wall will rise above the southwest Weld County landscape if developers get approval.

The giant bubble likely will be built by the same firm that erected the canopy above Denver International Airport and will dwarf an adjacent 27,000-square-foot, two-story building that would serve as headquarters for the Center for Athletic Performance.

“It will be visible. That’s for sure,´ said Mark Bechtholdt, vice president for marketing of Sun Construction and Design Services. The Longmont builder plans to spend $8.5 million on…

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