If Charlotte wants to land an Major League Soccer team, it needs to show the league that it has:
– A market that fits the league’s geographic wants and needs. (The closest teams are in D.C. and Atlanta, and Charlotte’s a big market.)
– A soccer fanbase that would support the team. (Big crowds have shown up to international games and exhibitions between European soccer giants in recent years.)
– And a 20,000-30,000-stadium for the team to play in. (*thinking face emoji*)
That last bullet will be discussed at a Mecklenburg County Commissioners public forum Tuesday. The county wants to hear from you. (Details on the meeting at the bottom of this post.)
Marcus and Bruton Smith — best known for their work in NASCAR — are behind the push to bring a team to Charlotte, and the city is one of 10 markets vying for a team. (Raleigh’s also putting together a bid.) Official proposals are due to the league Jan. 31, meaning we’re running out of time to get it all figured out.
So about that stadium.
The obvious place to put an MLS team is at Memorial Stadium, the old structure in Elizabeth with an amazing view of the skyline through one end of the stadium. The problem is that the field’s currently too small for soccer — and a lot of other improvements are needed to make it ready for an MLS team.
Charlotte City Council floated the idea of building a stadium at the old Eastland Mall site, which I — and others — think is a terrible idea. Marcus Smith also said Eastland isn’t the right fit.
Back to Memorial. What’s the plan to make it suitable for an MLS team?
Here are the most recent details, which will be discussed at the public forum.
– The latest proposed stadium would cost a total of $175 million, and it would be built on the site of Memorial Stadium. The stadium and the Grady Cole Center next door would be torn down.
– The city and county would each chip in $43.75 million. The Smiths (and investors) would cover the other $87.5 million.
– The county would also finance $75 million of the team’s cost, with the team paying the county $4.3 million every year for 25 years. The county would also own the stadium (it already owns Memorial) and the team would control it — basically the same arrangement the Hornets have with the city and The Cable Box.
– The team would commit to playing in the stadium for 25 years.
– Commissioners were told earlier this month that the stadium could bring $500 million-$700 million in new development nearby, and people could ride the streetcar to and from games.
– The stadium would be available for up to 20 amateur sports events throughout the year.
– Marcus Smith hasn’t disclosed details on the new stadium yet.
– The county put on hold a smaller proposal that would have allowed Charlotte’s minor league soccer team, the Independence, to play in the stadium in order to consider the MLS proposal.
The city is expected to hold a closed session on the proposal today. Then it’s your turn to talk to county commissioners.
The county forum is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 24) in the meeting chamber of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center at 600 East Fourth St. You can sign up to speak here and get even more info on the proposal here.
The county is expected to vote on the proposal at a budget retreat Thursday. And at this point, not all of the commissioners are sold on the plan.
“At the end of the day, Mecklenburg County taxpayers will be responsible for a $44 million investment and a $75 million loan,” said Republican Jim Puckett, “and if things go south, Mecklenburg County taxpayers will be the ones holding the bag.”
If everything’s approved, the Smiths still have to file an application by Jan. 31. And then we wait. MLS will announce two teams later this year (each team will have to pay $150 million) and they’ll start play in 2020.
So is Charlotte ready for the soccer big leagues? Marcus Smith sure thinks so.
“We think landing an MLS franchise is nothing short of the the defining accomplishment of our generation,” he said.
Photos: Charlotte Observer file