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MLS Expansion: Who Stands Where in the Stadium Race

20 Mar, 2017


An article in Soccer America Daily did an excellent job of breaking down the issue of the 12 cities seeking MLS's four expansion spots; all have a record of soccer support and all are backed by heavy hitters. The article notes:

What will separate them is their success in finalizing a stadium deal in the next six months. A tall order, considering the many moving parts. Several bidders face voter referendums on aspects of their stadium projections, beginning with St. Louis on April 4.

Here's a look at where the 12 expansion bidders stand in terms of their stadium plans and what public support, if any, they are seeking.

(Reminder: Two cities will be picked before the end of 2017 and will begin play in MLS by the 2020 season. The other two will be picked at an undetermined time after that.)

Charlotte. Speedway Motorsports owner Bruton Smith and his son, Marcus, want to build a $175 million soccer stadium at the site of old American Legion Memorial Stadium (Rodney Marsh's stomping grounds with the ASL Carolina Lightnin').

PUBLIC ROLE. The Smiths took their initial proposal to Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in January. They'd contribute half the cost of the $175 million stadium and the other half would come from Mecklenburg County and Charlotte.

Mecklenburg County commissioners voted, 5-3, in favor of a preliminary plan to contribute the county's $43.75 million share toward the stadium and front $75 million of the Smiths’ $87.5 million half (repayable over 25 years), but Charlotte's city council canceled plans for a vote, insisting it would not be rushed into making a commitment.

Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati shattered all USL records with an average attendance of 17,296 during the regular season and a crowd of 30,187 for its playoff game at Nippert Stadium. Problem is, Nippert Stadium is owned by the University of Cincinnati and is primarily a football stadium.

FC Cincinnati hasn't ruled out staying at Nippert Stadium, whose atmosphere and location it touts, but it's exploring plans to build a soccer stadium. Little is known about those plans except that the architect who is working on the stadium design is MEIS, which designed Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL Bengals.

PUBLIC ROLE. If a soccer stadium is build in Cincinnati -- the strong preference is a site in an urban area -- it is hard to imagine public funds being used.

"No one has talked to us about taxpayer money for a stadium in any manner whatsoever," Mayor John Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I don’t envision that.”

Detroit. Rock Ventures (owned by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert) wants to build a 23,000-seat soccer stadium as part of a $1 billion development at a downtown location on the site of an unfinished 2,000-bed jail.

But the plan hinges on building the jail about 1.5 miles away, at East Forest Avenue, east of I-75, and then using the site on Gratiot Avenue, near Greektown and Ford Field, for the mixed-use development that would include offices, commercial, hotel and residential space and parking as well as an MLS stadium.

PUBLIC ROLE. The new criminal justice complex (adult and juvenile detention facilities, new criminal courthouse and sheriff's and prosecutor's offices) is projected to cost $420 million, and Rock Ventures would pay for anything in excess of the $300 million that it was supposed to cost Wayne County to finish the Gratiot Avenue jail.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has commissioned an analysis of whether the new jail could meet the county's needs but seems to favor finishing the original jail project, or at least use that option as leverage in the county's negotiations with Rock Ventures.

"Rock has a lot of work to do to meet our timetable," Evans said last week in his State of the County address. "This isn't posturing or a hyperbole, and it's not anti-soccer. While the Rock proposal remains worth considering, that doesn't change the fact we are closer to building on Gratiot than at East Forest."

KEY DATE.Wayne County is waiting for Walsh Construction to submit a bid to finish the Gratiot Avenue jail. The deadline is May. It will clearer then how the Rock Ventures proposal stands.

Indianapolis. Indianapolis was a last-minute entrant in the MLS expansion race. The NASL's Indy Eleven plays at Carroll Stadium on IUPUI’s campus but it is considering a 20,000-seat stadium southwest of Lucas Oil Stadium, the NFL Colts' home, for an MLS stadium.

PUBLIC ROLE. Indy Eleven was stymied in its efforts to get legislative support for renovating Carroll Stadium or a new stadium in 2015. It wants to fund part of the new soccer stadium expected to cost $100 million-$120 million with user taxes generated by what fans spend at the stadium.

No soccer legislation is before the 2017 Indiana General Assembly, which closes for the year at the end of April.

Nashville. Mayor Megan Barry favors the construction of a soccer stadium (cost: $110 million) at the Fairgrounds Nashville as part of other work on facilities at the speedway, located south of downtown Nashville.

PUBLIC ROLE. Barry told the Tennessean she favors a "private-public partnership, with an emphasis on the 'private' part of the equation, will be needed in order to accomplish this goal."

What that partnership involving the Nashville MLS Steering Committee, led by businessmen John Ingram and Bill Hagerty, would entail and how costs would be shared remains to be determined. (Nashville was one of the last cities to get in expansion race.)

Metro Nashville owns Fairgrounds Nashville so any plans need approval from the city council and the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners.

Phoenix. The USL's Phoenix Rising FC is building a "pop-up stadium" to meet Division 2 stadium requirements on 45 acres of land acquired with the help of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and located near the 101 and 202 freeways in south Scottsdale.

The proposed soccer stadium would be climate-controlled and part of a larger soccer complex and mixed use development that would include light rail access throughout the Valley.

PUBLIC ROLE. Phoenix Rising's plans call for the stadium to be privately funded.

Raleigh. North Carolina FC (formerly Carolina RailHawks) and North Carolina Courage (formerly Western New York Flash) play at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, but for MLS the owner Steve Malik plans on building a 22,000-seat soccer stadium if WakeMed isn't expanded.

Multiple sites are under consideration for a $150 million stadium but none has been publicly identified. The preference is a downtown stadium.

PUBLIC ROLE.  At a December press conference, Malik said investors were prepared to fund the stadium but "we’d need some public support on infrastructure and parking at the least.”

Sacramento. No city has been pushing longer for an expansion team than Sacramento, so it's no surprise it is in the best shape in terms of its stadium plans.

In December, the Sacramento city council recently approved Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings' plans to build a $180 million soccer stadium with 25,000 seats on the eastern edge of the downtown railyard.

PUBLIC ROLE. Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings will be responsible for building the stadium and nearby parking garages, which will be a revenue source for the city. The only public support will come from $46 million for infrastructure improvements, some of which have already been made at the railyard.

St. Louis. SC STL -- the soccer group seeking an MLS team -- wants to build a 22,000-seat stadium west of Union Station.

PUBLIC ROLE. The stadium project has the support of outgoing St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, a former NAIA soccer champion at Quincy College, but it must win voter approval for the city's $60 million commitment to stadium funding.

SC STL failed to gain support from a state development agency and its request from the city was reduced from $80 million to $60 million. In face of opposition from the Board of Aldermen, SC STL agreed to increase an entertainment tax on ticket sales by 2.5 percent, estimated to generate as much as an extra $12 million for the city.

Lyda Krewson, the front-runner to succeed Slay in the heavily Democratic city, supported the stadium funding plan but has stated she doesn't want the city to own the stadium.

KEY DATE. Two ballot propositions are on the April 4 ballot -- a half-cent sales tax increase to fund MetroLink expansion and a corresponding increase in the city's business use tax to fund the soccer stadium.

In a January poll of Democratic voters conducted ahead of the March mayoral primary that Krewson won, they opposed the use of tax dollars for a soccer stadium by 61 percent to 22 percent.

San Antonio. Toyota Field, build by NASL Scorpions founder Gordon Hartman, opened in 2013 and seats around 8,000. It's now the home of San Antonio FC, which will begin its second season in the USL in 2017.

Toyota Field will have to be expanded to 18,000 seats if San Antonio gets an MLS team.  (Estimated cost of the upgrades: about $100 million.)

Unlike most other stadium projects, Toyota Field is not a downtown facility, but its location off I-35 with easy access to Austin is considered a positive.

PUBLIC ROLE. SS&E, which owns and operates the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, moved San Antonio FC into Toyota Field, which was acquired from Hartman in partnership with the city of San Antonio and Bexar County, which contributed $18 million in public funds toward the stadium's purchase price.

KEY DATE. Bexar County voters will have to approve a bond measure to fund a portion of Toyota Field's upgrades in December.

San Diego. FS Investors headed by Michael Stone has proposed developing $1 billion SoccerCity with a 30,000-seat stadium (40,000 seats if San Diego State football joins the project) as part of a sports and entertainment complex with parks, housing and office space in Mission Valley.

PUBLIC ROLE. SoccerCity would acquire the site from the city. The catch? Determining its fair market value and what development costs -- including cost of demolishing Qualcomm Stadium -- FS Investors can offset against the sale price.

KEY DATE. FS Investors must collect signatures from 71,646 registered voters by June to force the San Diego city council to either approve the development proposal or put it to voters for public approval.

Some suggest competition from rival developers might make the latter necessary, but the time frame for a public vote -- in the fall -- would probably put San Diego out of the running for the first two expansion spots.

A San Diego Union-Tribune and KGTV-10 News poll in January found 70 percent of respondents supported a joint stadium proposal (MLS Soccer plus SDSU football).

Tampa/St. Petersburg. The Rowdies' Bill Edwards plans to spend $80 million to expand Al Lang Stadium, their bay-front home in the NASL and now USL, from 7,200 seats to 18,000.

PUBLIC ROLE. St. Petersburg residents must approve an ordinance giving the St. Petersburg city council the authority to negotiate a use agreement for the Rowdies for city-owned Al Lang Stadium on a long-term basis. (The ordinance would require Rowdies to pay for all work on Al Lang Stadium.)

KEY DATE. A May 2 referendum (paid for by the Rowdies) is in the works.

Read the full article, and more coverage, here.

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