The Mecklenburg County commission voted 5-3 on Wednesday to hand over the site of 83-year-old Memorial Stadium to the city of Charlotte for a new soccer stadium for a potential MLS team — but no money for building it, which is what the ownership group had been hoping for. Commissioners said they wanted to see a soccer stadium built, but, you know, by the city, not them:
“They manage stadiums and they have a division in the city that deals with pro sports teams,” [Commissioner Jim] Puckett said. “They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that.”
The team’s original plan was for a $175 million stadium where $101.25 million of the costs would be paid off by the county, with the team repaying the public via $4.25 million a year in rent payments. (Note to readers who can do math: No, $4.25 million a year is not enough to repay $101.25 million in bonds unless you get a 1.5% interest rate, which I know they’re low but get serious.) Now they’ll instead have to try to hit up the city of Charlotte alone, which has already indicated that its maximum contribution is $30 million.
That would leave the team to shoulder $145 million of the cost, plus MLS’s nutso $150 million expansion fee, which is a hefty chunk of change. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t have to make those rent payments, so maybe it could just go to a bank and borrow the cash, and make mortgage payments instead? Or maybe the rich NASCAR track heir who wants to launch the MLS team would rather have somebody else on the hook for loan payments if his team, or MLS as a whole, went belly-up at some point as a result of its pyramid-scam spree of handing out expansion franchises like candy to anyone who wants to pay $150 million for candy? Yeah, probably that.
If you’re keeping score, the MLS expansion candidates are now:
- Charlotte: Can build a stadium, but needs to do it mostly on its own dime.
- Cincinnati: Has perfectly good old stadium that draws record-breaking crowds, wants $100 million for new stadium anyway, may or may not get it.
- Detroit: Rube Goldberg scheme involving $300 million in public funding and tearing down a half-built jail while building a stadium there plus a new jail elsewhere.
- Indianapolis: Has perfectly good stadium, wants public money for new stadium anyway, state legislature keeps laughing at them.
- Nashville: City considering selling $150 million in bonds to fund a stadium, to be repaid via we’ll get back to you on that.
- Phoenix: Ownership group swears up and down it can build a “climate-controlled” stadium without public subsidies, details TBD.
- Raleigh/Durham: Rube Goldberg scheme involving $91 million in state land and tearing down the state office buildings on it and building new state office buildings and somebody charging somebody rent or something.
- Sacramento: They have a site and a bunch of construction equipment ready to go, and say they can come up with $245 million for stadium construction out of their own pockets.
- San Antonio: Spurs owners cut a deal in 2015 to have the city and county buy them a minor-league soccer stadium, then if they get an MLS franchise, hold a countywide vote on providing money for upgrading it to big-league standards.
- San Diego: Rube Goldberg scheme involving getting $240 million worth of downtown land and infrastructure for $10,000 and then building lots of stuff on it including a soccer stadium, with a public referendum on this slated for November.
- St. Louis: Had its stadium-subsidy referendum already. It didn’t go well for the team owners.
- Tampa/St. Petersburg: Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards offering to pay $80 million to expand Al Lang Stadium, lease terms with city of St. Pete still to be determined.
That’s a whole mishmash of stuff indeed, and I don’t envy the job of the MLS officials tasked with having to pick two winners this fall (and two more next fall, because they can’t cash those $150 million expansion-fee checks fast enough). You have to wonder if commissioner Don Garber doesn’t think to himself sometimes, maybe it’d be easier just to stick the expansion franchises on eBay and take the highest bids. It would mean giving up on the pretense that they’re actually selecting the best soccer cities or something, but get real, nobody believes that anyway.