Mecklenburg County leaders are promoting a plan to help Charlotte land a Major League Soccer team. It would involve essentially reconstructing American Legion Memorial Stadium near uptown, and it would cost the city and county about $44 million each.
Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio says there’s a small window to pull this off.
“If you want Major League Soccer in Charlotte, this is really the time and the opportunity to take advantage of that,” she says.
The MLS is choosing two new teams, and the deadline for bids is the end of this month. The MLS invited the ownership group behind Speedway Motorsports, which runs Charlotte’s NASCAR track and several others nationwide, to submit a bid. (Charlotte’s minor league soccer team also had plans to go pro, but the MLS did not ask it for a bid.)
Speedway CEO Marcus Smith says soccer is the next big thing in sports entertainment.
“There’s been a fantastic excitement about MLS,” he says. “The average attendance across the country for the MLS last season was over 21,000.”
He also noted crowds in Charlotte have nearly filled the Carolina Panthers’ stadium to watch international soccer exhibitions.
Smith says his group considered about 10 sites for a new soccer stadium, including Eastland Mall.
“But when it came down to it, we heard directly from MLS that they really want a downtown location,” he says. “Memorial is the best location for that.”
Memorial Stadium opened in 1936 in the Elizabeth neighborhood. Now, the county manager says it’s rundown and rarely used besides for pro lacrosse.
Their solution is essentially to tear it down and rebuild it, while maintaining some of the historic touches. Diorio says the county and city would spend about $88 million combined on construction, and so would Smith’s group.
“The county will own the facility,” she says. “The team will operate and maintain the facility, so they’ll be responsible for all the operating expenses.”
But the county would pay for major upgrades after 11 years.
Diorio recognizes that taxpayer money for stadiums is usually controversial. The county will take public comments on the plan at a meeting Tuesday afternoon. The county commission and city council would vote on it by the end of the month.
Diorio says none of the spending would happen until the MLS makes its decision later this year. If Charlotte doesn’t get a team, the deal is dead.