While club owner assures publicly that getting a spot in MLS isn't crucial, he needs to have the stadium deal approved in order to get it. And it might not be an easy pitch since he wants taxpayers to foot the bill.
On Tuesday major news broke in Raleigh, North Carolina. You may remember the city from our 2017 release, which featured a truly impressive stadium planned in northern downtown of Raleigh. It was part of the plan to land North Carolina FC in MLS, which fell through in the end.
Now that same stadium was presented in a brand new site, along southern ring-road of Raleigh. This time its capacity has been cut from 25,000 to 20,000 seats, though the bowl remains largely unchanged, as one might expect from an early concept.
The venue would serve North Carolina FC and North Carolina Courage, one of the world's best women's teams. Add to that concerts and other live events and you get a promising package from owner of both franchises, Steve Malik. Who promises to deliver even if there's no MLS spot for his side.
“Frankly, we will be much more competitive (in MLS expansion) with the stadium plan,” Malik said. “At the same time, when we listened to people, one of the polling questions was ‘Does it matter if we have an MLS team or not?’ And frankly, our community doesn’t care that much. They want events downtown. Would it be nice to have MLS? Sure. But at the same time, we have the world’s greatest women’s team.”
One major issue is that Malik isn't keen on spending his own money on the stadium, which back in 2017 was estimated to cost $150 million. The entrepreneur suggests part of the city-county hotel tax to be used instead. This year the tax is expected to deliver $55 million, while the stadium would reportedly require $13 million annually to be secured.
Malik and his co-investors John Kane and Billie Redmond already have a survey reportedly backing their plan, carried out by McLaughlin & Associates. However, it's not certain to what extent people surveyed understood it would require their money to deliver a downtown stadium. A poll by WRAL.com gave people several options on what their city needs and the stadium was ranked third, well behind affordable housing and walkable retail/leisure.
Ironically, the stadium plan hardly includes any of the two most desired answers. Planned across 22 hectares, a new district called Downtown South would actually not be anywhere near the existing downtown, it's more remote and relies on car traffic. And while there are 1,750 apartments planned, there's no information on affordable housing being part of it.
Overall the investors still have impressive numbers on their side. All of Downtown South is expected to cost $1.9 billion and will see 150,000 square meters of office space, 1,200 hotel rooms and nearly 12,000 square meters of retail. Investors estimate $3.8 billion economic impact for Wake County (over 15 years), 5,900 jobs created and annual tax revenue of $24 million.
But if it's such a lucrative deal, why the need to get the $13 million annually from taxpayers to build the stadium in the first place? And who would benefit most from the economic activity if not the investors themselves? These are some of the questions that might need to be answered before the project wins people over.
The Raleigh city and Wake County councils will likely decide on the proposal by August. In order to support it, council members would have to against recommendations of their own managers, who already planned the next cycle. If approved, the project is slated to begin construction during the second quarter of 2020.
While Malik and his soccer projects are a valuable asset to the city (with stunning number of 14,000 youth engaged!), it remains to be seen if they're valuable enough...