City And MLS Group Talk About Smaller Contribution Toward Stadium

Jul 20, 2017

A group hoping to bring a Major League Soccer team to Charlotte asked a City Council committee Thursday for financial help building a new soccer stadium. The Economic Development Committee's chair says any city contribution will be far less than the $44 million originally requested. The leader of the MLS bid says he can work with that.

Committee members met for nearly two hours, and asked lots of questions about the proposal – mainly about public funding and location. The MLS4CLT ownership group is led by Marcus Smith of race track owner Speedway Motorsports. They want the city to help pay for a new soccer stadium near uptown, where Memorial Stadium now sits.

Committee chair James Mitchell said afterward the city has told the MLS group it can only spend about $30 million from tourism taxes on the project. And he says it could even be less.

“It will be lower. I think council realizes this is a very important demographic, but we just got so many other needs out there. And we're trying to spread it out,” Mitchell said.

If the city sticks with that $30 million figure, MLS4CLT's Smith says that may be enough.

“We think it's something that we can work with,” Smith told WFAE. “We've had to go back and look at the numbers, but we think we can build a first class soccer stadium with that amount from the city.”

During the meeting, Smith talked about the benefits of an MLS team - growth in the region's soccer community, how it could help the city be a magnet for millennials, and potential new development near the stadium site in Elizabeth.

But the stadium location is a sticking point for several council members.

Julie Eiselt said she thinks an MLS team would be great for Charlotte. But she told Smith she'd rather see public money go for a stadium in a neighborhood that's more in need of development - like North Tryon Street or the North End.  

“From the city's standpoint, when we put tourism money into a project we do want to see what the return is,” Eiselt said.

Mecklenburg County owns Memorial Stadium. County commissioners are expected to decide next month whether they will spend $44 million on the project.

The Economic Development Committee will continue discussing the stadium plan on Aug. 17, and vote then whether to recommend it to the full council. It could go up for a full council vote in September.

Charlotte is one of a dozen cities, including Raleigh, that are bidding for expansion teams. MLS says it will pick two new cities by the end of the year.