Meck. County listens to the public about MLS proposal

Meck. County holds public forum Tuesday night on MLS proposal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some Charlotte city leaders are expressing concerns about spending $44 million of taxpayers’ money to bring a Major League Soccer team to Charlotte.

This draft deal was released Friday and indicates the overall construction is $175 million and if it is approved, Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte would contribute about $44 million each.

The plan calls for demolishing Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center and replacing the properties with a state-of-the-art MLS stadium.

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The team would be responsible for operational costs, but the county would finance and lead construction of the project.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners held a public forum Tuesday, and county officials will vote on the plan two days later.

Charlotte City Council received its first briefing on the project Monday night. Charlotte has to submit its bid to the MLS by Jan. 31.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts called a special meeting for 4 p.m. Friday to receive public comments on the bid at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center.

Right now there are 20 Major League Soccer teams. MLS plans to add Atlanta and Minneapolis in 2017 and Los Angeles and Miami are in expansion development. MLS intends to establish a 28-team league. Including Charlotte, nine teams were invited to bid for an MLS team: Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa.

Deputy city manager Ron Kimble said there is a high likelihood a team from the Southeast will be chosen.

Kimble said Charlotte wants to land an MLS team to expand the economy and increase international exposure. Kimble says MLS will grow jobs, youth soccer and recreational opportunities.

The city points to international games hosted at Bank of America Stadium as a reason why MLS will succeed in the city. About 69,000 people attended a match between Liverpool and A.C. Milan in 2014. The following year, Chelsea’s match against Paris Saint-Germain drew 61,000 people. In 2016, a match between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan drew 53,000.

The city had considered Eastland Mall as a location but ultimately decided against it because of accessibility to interstates, competitiveness of the site and timing. The city says a soccer stadium and village could not be developed in time for the MLS deadline.

Parking and traffic studies will be done to optimize the MLS stadium’s location in Elizabeth, according to Kimble. While Memorial Stadium and Grady Cole would be demolished, historic elements would be incorporated into the new stadium, including the stone wall and ticket booths. City officials said the history of Memorial Stadium will be archived.

The total cost for the stadium is estimated to be $175 million. The ownership group is expected to contribute $87.5 million through a $12.5 million payment upfront and $4.26 million per year for 25 years. The county and city are expected to contribute $43.75 million each.

The county’s funds would come from the general fund; the city’s funds would be from “Tourism I” hospitality and tourism taxes, also known as the motel-hotel tax. The debt capacity for all four hospitality and tourism taxes will be $589 million in 2023 and Charlotte City Council can comfortably fund the project, Kimble said.

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