The prospects of bringing Major League Soccer to Charlotte were dealt a big setback this week when Mecklenburg County commissioners effectively withdrew their support for a new stadium.
But before you get too bummed out, soccer fans: This is just the way Charlotte tends to operate. Don’t be surprised to be rooting for a local pro soccer franchise sooner than you’d expect.
Back in January, a deal was hammered out between the city, county and NASCAR moguls Marcus and Bruton Smith that would have torn down the old Memorial Stadium in the Elizabeth neighborhood and built a MLS-ready stadium in its place. The county commission voted to put up its half of the $88 million and lend the Smiths another $75 million.
But the City Council wasn’t willing to play ball on such a tight timeframe, not in the immediate aftermath of September’s protests over inequality in the city.
Back-room conversations and a little more time weren’t enough to get City Council on board. Now the county commission has moved funding for the stadium back to the “wish list” and will re-evaluate in August.
Major League Soccer joins a mini-tradition of major civic projects being delayed or outright rejected.
The Elizabeth stadium is now among such prestigious company as the Blue Line light rail and the Spectrum Center.
Back in the 1980s, Charlotte was considering a major light-rail network that would have connected all corners of the city at a price tag that seems downright cheap in today’s dollars. But at the end of the process, Charlotte essentially rejected the plan by not allocating money to implement it. A decade later, the City Council finally got on board with a scaled-down plan that ultimately became the Blue Line.
Then in the early 2000s, opposition to the light rail got so fierce that anti-Lynx groups had a measure to repeal its funding put on the ballot in 2007. Their repeal bid failed, and the light rail finally opened later that year.
In the early 2000s, Charlotte was desperate to build a basketball arena Uptown to keep the Hornets (and later lure a new NBA team after the original Hornets decamped for New Orleans). Voters rejected an arts bond referendum with funding for the arena in a stunning 57-43 vote.
The City Council found a way to fund the arena anyway, moving forward a year later.
What’s the lesson in all of this? Rich white guys in Charlotte almost always get what they want eventually, for good or for ill.
Hugh McColl and Ed Crutchfield got their way for years. Pat McCrory got his light rail and Uptown NBA arena. Chances are the Smiths will get their soccer franchise.
The one major difference? This time there’s nobody in city politics effectively lobbying for MLS. When elected officials are on board, things can happen fast — like building a NASCAR Hall of Fame or luring the Democratic National Convention.
It might take a show of public support to get this initiative moving.
If that happens, expect Major League Soccer here within the next five years.