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Topgolf’s bird impacts, lack of official response ruffle conservation groups’ feathers

TIMNATH — Northern Colorado conservation groups have concerns about the proposed Topgolf facility in Timnath, and town officials have ignored offers from the Fort Collins Audubon Society and allied organizations to discuss potential impacts of the project on local bird populations. 

“The attitude that we take is that it’s better to bring up concerns and issues as early as possible in the formal government process before too much time, energy and commitment is made based on a partial view of the issues and a partial view of the facts,” John Shenot, president of the local Audubon Society chapter that covers Timnath and much of Northern Colorado, told BizWest.

Conservation groups became aware of Dallas-based Topgolf Entertainment Group’s plans to build its popular driving range and entertainment concept at the 240-acre Ladera development site near the intersection of Harmony Road and Interstate 25 in May after BizWest published a report on the project using internal Timnath government communications gathered via a Colorado Open Records Act request. They hired engineering contractor EDM International Inc. this summer to draft a report outlining the potential avian impacts of the development.

“The project area is located in a wetland complex along the Cache la Poudre River,” the report said, which is home to “waterbird species like ducks, herons, geese and eagles.”

Topgolf Thornton
Topgolf operates two facilities in Colorado, including this one in Thornton. Lucas High/BizWest

Construction on the site, particularly of a Topgolf facility that typically features fencing that towers more than 100 feet above the ground, “has the potential to impact bird species breeding, foraging and roosting in the surrounding area,” EDM engineers wrote. 

Specific concerns cited by the conservation groups include:

  • The transparent golf safety netting that “could impede the flights of birds — resulting in collision and mortality.”
  • High-wattage spotlights. “Numerous studies — including leading edge research being conducted at Colorado State University — have proven that lights not only negatively impact birds during migration, but also can attract them thus causing them to collide with the illuminated buildings and other structures.”
  • Noise. “In addition to disturbances from noise-generating construction operations, Topgolf facilities are known to incorporate live or recorded music that could impact the wildlife surrounding the area.”

The conservation groups, which include the Colorado Chapter of the International Dark-sky Association and the Colorado State University Field Ornithologists, sent the report and a letter to Timnath elected officials and staffers about six months ago. Their hope was to begin a dialog about the environmental and ecological impacts of the project early in the development process. 

“We did get a response from a staff person in the town of Timnath government that explained the development review process and how to participate in that,” Shenot said. “But it didn’t acknowledge or respond to any of the specific concerns that we raised. Nor did it respond to our request for a conversation to discuss those issues.”

Months went by and the Audubon Society heard nothing more from Timnath. Last month, after additional conceptual details of Topgolf’s proposal began to trickle out, they sent another letter.

“[W]e write now in the hope that town officials will understand our concerns before any irreversible decisions are made,” the November letter said. “The conceptual plan raises very serious questions about how severe the avian impacts could be, and what the developer could do to avoid and mitigate those impacts in the design, construction, and operational phases of the facility. We believe that the outcome of the development review process will be improved for all parties if we raise those questions now, rather than waiting for an eventual public comment period.”

The conservation groups have received no response from Timnath officials to the November letter.

“We have a sense that town officials might be having lots of conversations with the developer or land owner about a proposal that might come in as an application,” Shenot said. “We were just concerned that those conversations might be avoiding or glossing over the issues that we’ve raised.”

BizWest emailed each member of the Timnath Town Council, as well as top staffers, seeking comment for this story. None replied. 

Topgolf Entertainment Group builds large-scale, often multi-story driving ranges that allow golfers to play a variety of electronically scored games. The sites, which are popular for dates and company outings, also heavily feature food and beverage service. The company has Colorado locations in Thornton and Colorado Springs.

The proposed Topgolf facility in Timnath is planned for the roughly 240-acre Ladera development near the interchange of Harmony Road and Interstate 25. Source: Timnath planning documents.

For about a year, city officials have communicated with representatives of Topgolf and Ladera developer Connell LLC.

Emails obtained by BizWest show that Timnath officials have floated the proposal of a generous tax- and fee-incentive package to lure the popular venue to town.

Late last year, town officials received a petition, which was ultimately approved, for the organization of a Business Improvement District at Ladera, where Connell LLC is the developer, that establishes two new metro districts on the site, Timnath documents show.

The Timnath Town Council last year approved an ordinance granting a 50% sales tax credit for the development that “shall remain in effect until the earlier of: a) the date that the Maximum Reimbursement Amount of $5,000,000 has been remitted to any combination of the developer, the PIF collection agent, or any successor or assignee to the developer or the PIF collection agent, or b) 10 years after issuance of the first certificate of occupancy for the Ladera property,” town documents show.

In a signed December 2021 letter to Topgolf real estate manager Jonathan Trenski, Timnath mayor Mark Soukup expressed his “sincerest desire by the town of Timnath to join our community.”

Specifically, Soukup mentions the Ladera development as a potential landing place for the new facility. Employees with Connell exchanged emails with town staff that also showed Ladera as the proposed location.

Soukup’s letter, which was drafted, reviewed and edited by Timnath town manager Aaron Adams, Public Works Department director Don Taranto, town attorney Lori Graham-West and Community Development Department director Matt Blakely, offered the company a series of proposals that included a 50% reduction on building and impact fees, “a sales tax shareback agreement for the Top Golf enterprise of ⅓ of the current 3% sales tax for 20 years,” a modification of the “the existing Ladera/Connell sales tax sharing agreement to eliminate the proposed Topgolf property so that only the share back agreement proposed above will pertain to the Topgolf property,” and “expedited entitlement processing.”

The letter, which describes Soukup as being “very excited” about the potential for a new Topgolf, notes that the full Timnath Town Council would have to sign off on the offer. 

Town officials have said that no formal discussions have been held or decisions made regarding incentive offers, but executive sessions were held on the subject of Topgolf by the Timnath Town Council twice last year, according to information provided by the town after BizWest’s public records request.

After BizWest published its May story revealing the Timnath-Topgolf connection, the town launched a page on its website under the banner “Answering Questions: Potential Topgolf Development.” 

That site was last updated in October with a link to the town’s Development Projects Under Review website. That page indicates that a “site plan for conceptual review” has been provided to Timnath planners by applicant TB Group on behalf of property owner Sheri Welch and Connell LLC for a project described only as an “outdoor recreation and golf entertainment center.”

The vague details provided by the town do not specifically name that “outdoor recreation and golf entertainment center” as Topgolf.

A conceptual site sketch shows plans for a roughly 38,000-square-foot facility on nearly 12 acres.The building would be 40 feet high with netting poles stretching 156 feet into the air.

The sketch also shows a roughly 15,000-square-foot mini-golf course adjacent to the presumed Topgolf building.

Timnath officials have thus far held no public hearings nor taken any votes on the proposed “golf entertainment center” project at Ladera.

Source: BizWest