Mecklenburg County Goes Solo on Charlotte MLS Stadium Funding

MLSMecklenburg County will move ahead with Charlotte MLS stadium funding with speedway owner Marcus Smith, as the city of Charlotte will not contribute to $175 million in updates to Memorial Stadium.

The specifics of the deal have not been finalized, but broadly speaking the county is looking at spending $120 million toward what’s basically a new facility, with the MLS team — owned  by Smith — paying for the rest.

The deal has the county immediately paying $43.75 million toward the stadium and then financing $75 million of the Smiths’ $87.5 portion of the stadium upgrades, so the MLS team would only be liable for a $12 million upfront payment, and $4.26 million annually once the stadium opens. Smith would then be on the hook for what’s expected to be a $150-million expansion fee.

But the devil is always in the details, and there are plenty of details to be worked out, such as an option 15 years into the deal releasing the team should it not be “economically viable,” and how much the county could be paying for upgrades and capital maintenance in coming years. From the Charlotte Observer:

The term sheet for the Smith’s $175 million stadium deal, made public two weeks ago, is a starting point for negotiations. Commissioners would have to approve a final, binding agreement on what the stadium will look like and terms of the team’s tenancy.

The terms of the proposal have the county contributing $43.75 million toward the stadium. The county would fund $75 million of the Smiths’ $87.5 million half of the project, to be repaid at $4.26 million annually over 25 years.

Those numbers could change during negotiations but would come back before county commissioners for approval, county manager Dena Diorio said Friday.

The county would continue to own the site and manage the stadium’s design and construction. The soccer team would have full operating control of the facility, but allow the city and county 20 days’ free use a year and charge “reasonable” rental fees for nonprofit groups.

There is inventive for Marcus Smith to work hard to close this deal as soon as possible: it’s hard to see MLS awarding an expansion franchise to a group that doesn’t have a firm stadium plan. Charlotte would seem to be a perfect MLS market, but the stadium is raising some red flags among MLS front-office folks, we are told.

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