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OREM — Utah County’s minor league baseball team is staying in Orem after all.
In a reversal of an announcement last month, the Orem Owlz will not relocate to Pueblo, Colorado, by the 2020 season — or at all, Owlz owner Jeff Katofsky announced Monday in conjunction with a ruling from the Pueblo County government.
The project that would've seen the rookie-level Pioneer League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels hop from Utah Valley University to the other side of the Rocky Mountain range is dead, both sides agreed.
The move was contingent on Pueblo's city and county government helping to build a youth sports facility, 5,000-seat ballpark for the Owlz, and a host of new hotels to accommodate the venture.
"I cautioned that the transaction was preliminary and there were a lot of details to finalize the deal," Katofsky said in a statement from the team. "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."
Katofsky said his ownership group planned to invest approximately $50 million to "revitalize Pueblo through sports, tourism and growth that would bring literally thousands of people to Pueblo weekly during baseball season."
"Unfortunately, those opposed to this economic juggernaut had the louder voice," he added. "For whatever reasons, we seemed to believe in Pueblo more than this outspoken minority."
Officials with the Pueblo County Commission announced the cessation of the project to build a stadium via written statement Monday afternoon.
"After the flurry of activity last week, they have come to the sad conclusion that they need to cease working on the YES project," Pueblo County commissioners Terry Hart and Sal Pace said in the statement. "We also feel that we are not able to conclude this project with Jeff Katofsky and the Orem Owlz. We wish them nothing but good luck in their future endeavors. They have negotiated in good faith during this process."
Pueblo was one of six cities approved by Minor League Baseball for the Owlz move, Katofsky told KOAA News in Pueblo when he traveled to the city for the official announcement.
The Owlz have been in Utah County since 2001, when the then-Provo Angels joined the league to play at BYU’s Larry H. Miller Field. The club relocated up University Parkway to Utah Valley University in 2005 to the location now known as UCCU Ballpark, and have been there ever since — winning five Pioneer League titles and eight division championships, but also lagging in attendance behind other clubs like the rival Ogden Raptors.
Orem’s attendance peaked at 2,927 fans per home game in 2008 before falling to around 1,500 in 2017.
The Owlz are a dismal 12-24 in 2018, including an 8-16 mark in Pioneer League South play. The Raptors lead the division at 24-12 overall, 15-9 in the division.
After the Pueblo County government expressed significant concerns with the project, Katofsky responded to the local daily Pueblo Chieftain and accused the newspaper of damaging the project that would’ve brought the Owlz and its $25 million stadium to the city.
"For whatever reason, your paper has chosen, by use of unconfirmed rumor and innuendo, to jump the gun and print whatever you hear as fast as you can," Katofsky told the Chieftain.
"If anyone has damaged the prospect of a public-private partnership intended to bring thousands of tourists weekly (and the economic benefit that such brings) to a stagnant downtown Pueblo, it is The Chieftain."
As for Orem, the baseball club assured fans of no current intentions to move the Owlz in the immediate future.
"The Owlz will continue to enjoy the most beautiful ballpark in all of Minor League Baseball and its positive relationship with Utah Valley University," Katofsky said. "We wish our friends in Pueblo success and prosperity."