• Soccer fans welcome MLS with open arms

    By: Joe Bruno

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Live music, free gear and a group of 200 soccer fans flooded First Ward Park to try convince Major League Soccer President Mark Abbott that Charlotte can support an expansion team.

    Abbott said Charlotte is a soccer city, but it won't get a professional team without a solid plan for a new stadium.

    “A city that doesn't have a stadium it is axiomatic,” Abbott said. “You have to have a stadium to have a team.”

    Abbott called the current proposal for a new stadium to replace Memorial Stadium a great public-private partnership.

    The City Council is yet to be convinced.

    One of Tuesday's stops was Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth where they could build a state-of-the-art stadium that can seat 20,000 fans.

    A new MLS stadium could cost $175 million.

    A proposal calls for the city and county to each spend nearly $44 million in taxpayer money, and potential investor Marcus Smith wants the county to loan him $75 million on top of that.

    Smith would have to pay back $4.26 million a year for 25 years.

    Smith thinks if the city is on board, MLS is a lock to come to Charlotte.

    “Our city is that good, our site is that good and our bid is that good,” Smith said.

    Smith said that if the city funds the project, talks about season tickets and corporate sponsorships will advance.

    Rendering for Charlotte MLS stadium

    Abbott is impressed with the Memorial Stadium site, in particular its skyline view and future streetcar service.

    But what left a mark on Abbott was Charlotte's soccer support, especially from the youth.

    Most of the 200 people at the rally were kids like Bella and Anthony Korolos.

    “It would be fun because we could go to the games a lot and it would provide more things to do in Charlotte,” Anthony Korolos said.

    It will be up to adults to decide whether to provide nearly $88 million taxpayer to a billionaire family to bring the sport to Charlotte.

    The MLS plans to name two expansion teams by the end of the year and two additional teams at another time.

    Smith would not commit to pursuing funds from the council in the future if he is rejected this time.

     

    City leaders will discuss the MLS in the economic development committee Thursday.

    Supporters said they're showcasing what a great fit a team would be, but they're doing it without city and county officials.

    Abbott said the most impressive part about his visit was meeting Charlotte's soccer community.


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    Abbott said he was not discouraged that city and county leaders canceled meetings with him Tuesday.

    He said the purpose of his visit was to get an idea of Charlotte as a soccer town and at the right time leaders can meet with him.

    He said he isn't ready to rank markets but he liked what he saw in Charlotte.

    “The chance to visit this Memorial Stadium site and see right here in the shadow of downtown and just see the opportunity,” said Mike Burch, of MLS4CLT.

    Channel 9 reported last week that league officials were scheduled to talk with county leaders during their trip, but commissioners called off the meeting.

    Channel 9 was told the league wanted the meeting to be private, but any meeting involving more than four commissioners must be public.

    League officials will also make a stop Wednesday in Raleigh, which is also a contender for an expansion franchise.

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