MLS executives made a much-anticipated visit on Tuesday, appearing in Charlotte as elected leaders continue to discuss a proposed stadium.
The visit from MLS officials, including president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, came at a timely point in Charlotte’s expansion process. As part of a bid led by Marcus Smith, a new $175 million stadium has been proposed for an MLS expansion franchise.
Whether public funding for the facility–which would be constructed at the site of Memorial Stadium– will be secured has been perhaps the most pressing question in the process. The City of Charlotte has not yet committed to offering a contribution to the project, though discussions are set to continue on whether to kick in $30 million from its hotel/motel occupancy tax toward the facility’s cost.
On Tuesday, however, MLS officials took the opportunity to note some of Charlotte’s strengths. Abbott cited community pride as a strong attribute of the city, and a pep rally staged as part of the visit was reported to draw a strong contingent of supporters. More from The Charlotte Observer:
“I couldn’t help but be struck by how proud they are of this community – and justifiably so – and the sense of unity that I saw … not only in their desire to bring Major League Soccer here but in their desire to continue to build a great community,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday.
Abbott outlined the four criteria MLS evaluates for potential expansion markets: the ownership group, the stadium plan, community support and how the market can help MLS grow.
On the third item, Marcus Smith, who heads the ownership group bidding on the team, has been working to drum up interest from potential fans.
One of the ways Smith has sought to do that is through the MLS4CLT campaign. And the MLS visit was capped off Tuesday with a rally in First Ward Park that featured live music, food trucks, craft beer, games and shirts from MLS4CLT, the bidding group. A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer estimated 200-250 people attended.
As noted, the city is expected to continue considering whether it will contribute to the project. An economic development committee is set to discuss the proposal on Thursday, though the Observer reports that a vote is not expected to take place. The proposed stadium’s funding model calls for contributions from both the city and Mecklenburg County, in addition to private funds.
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