A successful MLS expansion bid might not be needed to build a proposed Raleigh soccer stadium, as North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik believes there could be other uses for the facility.
North Carolina FC has been part of the MLS expansion mix, though it has not managed to move itself into the realm of favorites yet. The club’s proposal for a new stadium calls for the facility to anchor a surrounding development project, with Malik and developer John Kane partnering with other investors on the initiative. Initially the plans were pitched for state-owned land in downtown Raleigh, but the group announced recently that it is shifting its focus to an undisclosed 40-plus acres in Southeast Raleigh.
Although an MLS expansion team remains on Malik’s radar, he indicated during a recent interview that construction of the stadium will not be contingent upon having an expansion bid approved. Without MLS, Malik believes that the stadium could still be used by his two clubs–North Carolina FC of USL Championship and the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage–and open for additional events such football, rugby, and lacrosse. He and Kane still have plenty of work to do to make the idea a reality, including lobbying Wake County for $11 million annually in funds from the Interlocal Agreement over 30 years, but Malik nonetheless has a vision for how the stadium could operate without MLS. More from the News & Observer:
Will this stadium help land an MLS franchise?
“Well, obviously one of the keys is having a stadium plan and an urban stadium plan, so it would be huge for us. You know, I believe we should build this regardless, that it’s not just about MLS. We have two great soccer teams that will be the anchor tenants for the facility — but it’s also about lacrosse and rugby and college football, frankly, for some of the smaller colleges in this area that can afford to rent out Carter-Finley and many other smaller events that need an outdoor facility. … I think all those things are positive for us for MLS, and at the same time, it’s not a requirement.”
At this point, North Carolina would have to plan more long term, as St. Louis and Sacramento are the front runners for the 28th team and numerous questions remain about how exactly expansion will proceed down the road. The exact scale of the stadium might be determined by whether or not Malik can land an expansion franchise, but it seems that he will make the case for a stadium project of some type regardless of whether it lures MLS.
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