|Commissioners to consider new Memorial Stadium proposal|
|Deal would upgrade facility for Independence|
|Published Thursday, November 2, 2017 5:54 pm|
Memorial Stadium is back on the table for the Charlotte Independence.
A proposal for stadium renovations will be presented to the Mecklenburg County commissioners at their Nov. 8 meeting.
“We have to do something with the stadium,” Commissioner Trevor Fuller said. “It is deteriorating, and we do need to do something with it. To me that was always what I was looking out for—for us doing something for the stadium. If somebody has some good ideas that can help that happen, I’m all ears.”
Commissioner Jim Puckett sponsored the legislation, along with Ella Scarborough and Pat Cotham. The background/justification for introducing the legislation reads:
“The Park and Recreation Master Plan calls for improvements to Memorial Stadium. With continued interest in expanding the field for soccer, deterioration of the facility and a need to have a County facility that can honor our veterans and provide a recreation amenity well into the future, the time is right for this discussion.”
A proposal went before commissioners in July 2016 that called for $24 million in funding between the county, city of Charlotte and the Independence with construction to be completed in 2019. Less than three months later, Keith Lamont Scott was shot by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer, and support disappeared. Charlotte Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith announced his intention to bid for an MLS expansion franchise in December, bringing the stadium back into the spotlight. Smith’s MLS4CLT plan called for a similar public-private partnership, but at a price tag of $43.75 million each, plus $150 million franchise fee for Smith should the league award the market a team.
Puckett and Cotham voted against funding Smith’s bid in January, while Scarborough voted in favor of the partnership. Commissioners voted to offer to deed the property to the city and step away from any other involvement with the bid, but the city turned it down. With no proposed location, the bid lost its appeal to the league.
During the MLS discussions, the National Independent Soccer Association announced Charlotte as one of eight teams bidding for a third tier American soccer league, and yet another trying to play professional soccer at Memorial. Pending U.S. Soccer Federation approval, NISA would introduce promotion and relegation with independent Division II and IV leagues similar to European models. Charlotte’s bid, titled Charlotte F.C., came from Michael Filipidis. NISA co-founder Peter Wilt noted the proposed location makes the Charlotte F.C. bid attractive. However, Independence Managing Partner Jim McPhilliamy isn’t worried it could derail the Jacks playing at Memorial.
“One of the things I sort of figured out this year was just keep my head down and worry about my own stuff,” McPhilliamy said. “Who knows what’s going to happen with that? They’ve got multiple hurdles to overcome. I’m not really thinking about that at all.”
While the site’s proximity to Uptown makes it an ideal location, a key issue remains: what becomes of the historic stones from the original 1936 stadium if the field is widened for professional soccer? Memorial’s current dimensions are 140 yards long by 72 yards wide.
The Independence’s goal from the beginning has been to play at Memorial, which they announced as their proposed home venue in 2014 when they purchased the USL rights from the Charlotte Eagles. Over three seasons, the Jacks have played at UNC Charlotte, Winthrop, Ramblewood Soccer Complex and the Sportsplex at Matthews.
“Even though Matthews Sportsplex is awesome, the economics of the team, especially if you look at us trying to put a winning product on the field, if you look at [USL] teams that are putting a lot more people in the stands than we are, it’s tough to field a competitive team, even though we’ve been doing so,” McPhilliamy said. “Long term, we need to have a solution. Matthews is great for right now, and we can keep it going, but we need to have a long term path to actually breaking even. At a renovated Memorial Stadium, we could do that. Long term, being in the Southern suburbs is tough.”
However, the Jacks aren’t leaving the Sportsplex soon.
“I think we’d be there at least two or three years,” McPhilliamy said. “If you look back at the original timeline for getting everything done at Memorial, it’s an over two-year project from start to finish, and we haven’t even renegotiated the deal points. I think they’ll be very similar to where we started at the beginning, but we need to sit down at the table. In a lot of ways, we’re back at the beginning, but we have a really good framework for what the beginning looks like now, and we didn’t before.”
The Independence’s initial business model called for 5,000 people per game. They have never hit that target.
“I think all of the investors are fine with incurring some loses in the short term if we have a long term path to getting to breakeven,” McPhilliamy said. “Our issue was, if there was no eventual path to getting to break-even, it was tough to figure out why we were doing it. The key of getting Memorial back on track is that you have a long term path toward being able be in a position to invest more in the product, and really put out a product that the city of Charlotte can be proud of.”
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