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CSU, City reach agreement on former Hughes land

a biker rides past a sign that reads "LAND BACK"
A biker at the Maxwell Natural Area on Aug. 22 passes signs placed by the Intertribal Alliance for Right Relations. Demonstrators and activists were at the trailhead to explain the history of the Hughes land and their hope for it to be used as a gathering place for Indigenous people. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

Colorado State University, the City of Fort Collins and third-party Cottonwood Lands and Farms entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Aug. 20 that resolves some uncertainty with the former Hughes Stadium property.

According to a press release from the City of Fort Collins and the CSU System, “the MOU is intended to compensate CSU in order to meet the fiduciary obligations noted by CSU and provide CSU an alternative parcel of land near Horsetooth and Ziegler to be used for affordable housing. With those requirements met, CSU would then sell the Hughes Stadium property to the City.”

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The proposed redevelopment plan has seen backlash from Indigenous activist groups such as the Intertribal Alliance for Right Relations, or Hughes Land Back. The group submitted a letter to the Board of Governors during their latest meeting on Aug. 4 denouncing their plans for development and calling for land action and not just performance when referring to CSU’s Land Acknowledgment. 

“Furthermore, we call on the (CSU System) Board of Governors to outline and pursue pathways for restitution to the original Indigenous stewards of these unceded treaty lands in the form of repatriating (returning) that which is rightfully theirs/ours: the unencumbered land, water and all rights above, below and within it,” read the letter sent to the board on Aug. 4.

A person places signs
Chris Gillespie places signs at the Intertribal Alliance for Right Relations Aug. 22. Gillespie and others spoke with students attending an event to hike to “The A” about their hope that the Hughes Stadium site could be used as a gathering place for Indigenous people. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

The CSU System Board of Governors responded to the letter, “We hear and appreciate the comments related to the stewardship of the land. Indigenous peoples once inhabited the entire country, and the CSU Land Acknowledgement speaks to the importance of recognizing the history of the land the University is built upon, but disposing of such an asset without economic benefit is inconsistent with the board’s duties.” 

According to CSU, the land was sold to them by the federal government after it was done being used to house the construction equipment that created Horsetooth Reservoir back in the 1950s, and it is their legal right to do as they please with the land.

The Intertribal Alliance responded, saying the land was acquired illegally for $0 in 1957 in their statement. 

“What else might the CSU System have yet to learn (or unlearn) and share with the public about its history?” they wrote.

Along with lobbying City Council, citizens of Fort Collins passed a citizen-initiated City ordinance in April to influence the fate of the former Hughes Stadium land. 

The citizen initiative had two main components: first, to change the zoning of the Hughes space from transitional to Public Open Land, and second, requiring the City to make an effort to purchase the land from CSU. 

A person writes on a sign
EJ Tivona creates a sign for the Intertribal Alliance for Right Relations Aug. 22. Tivona and others spoke with students attending an event to hike to “The A” about their hope that the Hughes Stadium site could be used as a gathering place for Indigenous people. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

Of those who voted, 28,492 people voted for the measure to pass and 13,034 voted against the measure, making for a 69% to 31% margin, an overwhelming majority in favor of having the City acquire the land, which is accomplished by the new proposed MOU. 

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The rezoning of the Hughes land from transitional to public open space is really important for what type of development is allowed on the land, according to Paul Sizemore, director of community development and neighborhood services for the City of Fort Collins. 

Now that the land is zoned as Public Open Land, the process for development is different and must meet guidelines that are more difficult than regular development through the site plan advisory process, according to Sizemore. 

“Whether it was CSU or a private developer, if they tried to build something that was private use, they wouldn’t be able to do it because the zoning doesn’t allow for many of those types of uses,” Sizemore said. 

As for the possibility of Indigenous groups receiving the land, the main focus for the City right now is to adhere to the ballot initiative, according to Sizemore. 

“The City is really committed to implementing the will of the voters and doing what the ballot initiative directed us to do,” Sizemore said. “Whatever happens with the land, we hope that it is something that the Fort Collins community will be proud of for years to come.”

Isaiah Dennings can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @isaiah_dennings.

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