Op-Ed: If we’re serious about landing a MLS team, here’s where the stadium should actually go

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We’ve hit a major roadblock with all things related to Memorial Stadium. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners ultimately voted 5-3 to offer up the stadium to the city and end the possibility of contributing cash to the deal.

However, they didn’t think to check with the city to see if this is even what they wanted. Turns out the city isn’t ready to take on that property.

So where do we go from here?

Two new MLS teams are expected to be awarded by December. An additional two teams will be awarded at some point in the future, but it is likely that the Smiths want in now as the buy-in for franchise tags continues to go with popularity.

Now is the time for soccer, but it seems Memorial Stadium just isn’t the place.

Why now is the time

(1) Charlotte is growing as fast as any major metro area in the United States. Charlotte added more residents in 2016 than all but 10 cities in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Charlotte is double the size of Raleigh. Charlotte also added more millennials than any other major city.

(2) Charlotte is a leader in youth soccer as evidenced by Soccer Shots, Charlotte Eagles, Charlotte Soccer Academy, and Charlotte United, so this is sustainable.

(3) Charlotte has a great USL franchise in the Charlotte Independence that would be the perfect farm system for a MLS team. The Smiths could tap the soccer minds of people like Jim McPhilliamy, the president of our USL franchise; Mac Lackey, the founder of internet soccer network, KYCK.com; and ISL Futbol, while continuing to swing their weight with expertise in sporting event/venue management, sports media agreements, and deep financial pockets.

(4) Charlotte is a destination most major sports want to tap into, including the PGA, NFL, NBA, MLB, and yes, the MLS.

(5) Charlotte has sophisticated investors in Marcus and Bruton Smith with major money.

(6) The Panthers signed a 10-year deal for their stadium improvements, and if a sale of the team happens due to Jerry Richardson’s old age the new owners are likely to start working on another deal that asks for more public money.

The new money that new owners would request would be to keep up with stadiums like Atlanta’s new billion dollar Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which also features a major league soccer team. Atlanta’s soccer team has drawn players in their prime to play stateside, something new for the MLS, which seems to have attracted stars in the twilight of their careers to date.

The MLS deal needs to get done before the Panthers deal gets done or it will be even more difficult. If they don’t get a deal done now the price for the MLS deal will rise.

Where the stadium should go

The Panthers originally asked for a new indoor practice facility in their initial plan for stadium improvement funded in part by the city.

They later reduced their length of commitment and the amount of money the city had to commit to the Panthers, which resulted in removing the practice facility from the request.

Close to the practice facility on South Cedar Street, there are major plans for Gateway Station, the transportation hub that will connect InterCity modes like Amtrak and Greyhound with intracity modes like streetcar, light rail, CATS buses, bike rentals, and car service.

The Panthers current practice field is the ideal place for the MLS team to build their stadium, and Gateway station is planned to go right next to it.

This would likely draw more residents from all over town into the stadium as they wouldn’t have to worry as much about parking. For people who do need parking, they would use existing parking infrastructure and security plans for Bank of America Stadium on game day.

This new MLS stadium, along with BB&T Stadium and Bank of America Stadium would create an area of town with three major sports stadiums and a transit facility that would be an incredible welcome to Charlotte. (Side note, doesn’t Wells Fargo or Ally want to put their name on something sports related?)

In doing this, the Smiths would be able to partner with Richardson so both parties get more leverage with the city. The Panthers would need to buy property on the other side of Morehead St. for their new practice facility, and the city who would net another major sports franchise would have to help them build it.

Marcus Smith, call me I’ll help you plan this out. #MLS4CLT

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