By Anthony A. Mestas and Ryan Serverance

The Pueblo Chieftain

PUEBLO — Several local officials have confirmed that the owner of the Orem Owlz Minor League Baseball team — an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels — will not bring his team to Pueblo.

And while they say the project is over, a news release from Pueblo County Wednesday evening said there is still a chance the project will be finalized.

If the deal is finalized, the project would include Pueblo County building a $25 million multi-purpose stadium. The owner would not have to pay for any of the stadium costs.

The controversial project has drawn criticism, support and spirited debate for the past several months.

In one development, The Pueblo Chieftain obtained an email written Wednesday afternoon by Jerry Pacheco, director of the Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority, saying that the owner, Jeff Katofsky, is walking away from the project.

"It is with disappointment that I have to report that I have received word that the owner of the Orem Owlz, Jeff Katofsky, has declined to move forward with his plans to develop three hotels and will not move his team to Pueblo (into a new to-be-built stadium)," Pacheco wrote to officials involved in the project.

"I have been contacted by the local media (The Pueblo Chieftain) and had to confirm that I did receive an email this morning that hinted at that fact."

Pacheco said subsequently, he learned that Pueblo County had been officially notified through formal channels.

"It will be up to Pueblo County to comment on the formal status of the project moving forward," Pacheco wrote.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, the main proponent of the project, would not speak with reporters about Katofsky's decision Wednesday afternoon.

After the initial Chieftain report was published online, Pace in a texted message to a reporter later in the day said, "This project can happen. It can also die. There are (unnamed) people trying hard to kill it. These people are very committed to having no change or growth in Pueblo.

"Let's be very clear, these people are very close to succeeding again in their objective to prevent anything new from coming to Pueblo. In the meantime, I'm going to keep working to make Pueblo a better community,"

Conversely, in the evening news release, Pace cited Katofsky's emailed statement that "Pueblo has killed the deal."

Pace also mentioned his impressions from Wednesday talks with Katofsky that he's taken "no formal position" on whether to continue the project."

According to Pacheco, though, the no-go letter issued by Katofsky was received by the project team Wednesday morning.

In it, Pacheco said Katofsky discusses his frustration about the way the project was progressing.

City Manager Sam Azad saw a copy of Katofsky's letter and said there was a reference to the YES project now being in the same breath as the Walmart distribution center and the Budweiser plant — two Pueblo-area business projects that flamed out.

Katofsky did not immediately return phone calls from The Chieftain.

Katofsky announced his plans to relocate his team here last month.

On Wednesday, officials said Katofsky was frustrated over a request-for-proposal process to construct three hotels that he would have had to go through a bidding process. City officials said Wednesday that two other hotel developers had expressed an interest in developing the police annex site — which was one of the areas at which Katofsky wanted to build a hotel.

Part of the project included the construction of three privately developed hotels near the proposed site of the stadium as well as one near the Runyon Field Sports Complex.

In a letter from Azad that was requested by The Chieftain in a Colorado Open Records Act request, the city manager said the city charter requires that city surplus property "shall be sold to the highest bidder" under a "sealed bids" process.

"As city manager, I am required by the City Charter to following that procedure," Azad wrote.

Azad said that he will ask the city's purchasing agent to request an RFP for sale of the former police annex building.