CRAWFORD | Is it time to think bigger when it comes to Louisville City FC stadium?
After drawing a franchise record crowd of nearly 14,000 to Louisville Slugger Field Saturday night, WDRB's Eric Crawford asks why Louisville City FC's new stadium plan calls for only 10,000 seats?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville City FC put up two impressive numbers Saturday night – beating rival FC Cincinnati 5-0 at Louisville Slugger Field, no small thing for a team dealing with some injuries.
But Louisville City also did it in front of a franchise-record crowd of 13,812, one of the largest crowds ever in the facility, for any kind of event.
All of which begs the question – should this city be thinking bigger where its fledgling soccer franchise is concerned?
Talks are under way to explore a stadium in the Butchertown area of downtown. The city has commissioned a study at a cost of $250,000, which includes an environmental analysis, given that some of the 40 acres in question is considered brownfields.
The land would have to be purchased from several owners, and the stadium, which would seat 10,000 and be expandable to 20,000, would be the anchor of a larger development that would include retail, office space and hotels.
Estimated cost: $40 million for the stadium and perhaps upwards of $200 million for the entire development.
This, simply put, would be a mistake. We’ve seen these events unfold before. Expensive property acquisition. Planned development attached (which never materializes as proposed). Tax increment financing district.
For once, this may be the time for the city to think bigger. And in this case, bigger could actually wind up being cheaper.
Up front, I know that these proposals I'm about to make will go nowhere. Team owners have studied this, and determined that Butchertown is their best shot. They have the land under option in Butchertown. The city, under their plan, would acquire the land, clear it, and resolve environmental issues from oil tanks on the property. Then it would be turned over to developers. Financing details have not been announced.
I'm not an expert. Team and city officials have looked at this far more than I have. But my question remains:
Why not build a state-of-the art, 20,000-seat or more Major League Soccer-ready stadium on the site of the old Cardinal Stadium at the Fairgrounds? Land acquisition isn’t an issue. Favorable terms could be negotiated for the team owners. The facility could be built with soccer in mind but could be multi-purpose, could host outdoor concerts and other events. Parking already exists. Is there no interest from the state?
To build a 10,000-seat facility for a franchise that is already drawing better than 9,000 per game and has demonstrated it can draw 14,000 and likely far more for big matches would be a quintessentially Louisville thing to do.
Build it, but do it in an economically responsible way that brings value and revenue through several different streams.
If you don’t like the Fairgrounds idea, what about a larger soccer facility somewhere in the Eastern part of the county that incorporates not just an MLS-ready stadium but a large soccer complex around it? The city’s need for a facility capable of holding large youth events is just as great as its need for a professional stadium. At the moment, traveling teams saddle up most weekends to head to large events around the region. If you’re looking for revenue streams, a large, multi-pitch facility and training grounds built around the stadium would bring virtually guaranteed revenue.
Louisville has bought in to professional soccer. Give the city and team a first-class facility, and you’d see crowds on a par with, or close to it, what they’ve seen in Cincinnati.
If you’re telling me that a big stadium sitting out in the middle of the Fairgrounds doesn’t have “character,” I’d tell you that you’d immediately see development along Crittenden Drive and Phillips Lane, pubs, restaurants, whatever soccer fans need before games. The available space at the Fairgrounds also could incorporate a large plaza area for a soccer stadium.
Playing downtown is nice. Building a stadium at half the size you need at potentially twice the cost is not. Cincinnati and Nashville have taken serious steps to attract the attention of MLS.
Louisville has a team worthy of the league’s attention. It just needs a facility, and with that, the city has a chance to make a statement. Do you want to dream big and make a play for soccer as Louisville’s entry into major professional sports? Or simply make the stadium part of an overall downtown development plan?
These are complex questions. I’m not telling anyone what to do, except for this: Building a 10,000-seat stadium for this franchise is to build a facility that would be obsolete before the doors opened for the first game. Even if it proceeds in Butchertown, getting a stadium built just for the sake of doing it should not be the plan, if you have to settle for a capacity that could be much larger (and generate more revenue) from Day One.
“We’re building this thing to get an MLS franchise here,” Louisville FC chairman John Neace said the day the Butchertown plan was unveiled. “You know, we’re not doing it just for what we’re doing today. So you need to keep that in mind as you look at what we’re trying to do here. It’s time we think bigger.”
He's right about that. So why is the current stadium proposal so small? At the very least, build it all at once. As fans demonstrated on Saturday night, they will come.
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