LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Spending public money on a soccer stadium project in Butchertown is an investment and “not an expense,” a member of the development group told Metro Council members on Tuesday.

Mike Mountjoy, an investor in the Louisville City FC professional soccer club, said the city stands to gain $88 million over two decades in in school taxes, room taxes and other benefits from the mixed-use, $200 million project that also calls for hotels, offices and restaurants that would be privately financed.

Developers are seeking a city contribution of $30 million through a bond issue that would cover the cost of buying the land, cleaning it up and paying for public infrastructure. They have agreed to return $14.5 million to Metro government over time, tapping stadium rental and other revenues to make those payments.

“We think the payback to the city is significant,” Mountjoy told the council’s labor and economic development committee. “This is not an expense. This is an investment. This is a long-term play to give the city something that we believe will have a significant future in the growth and development of our city.”

Mountjoy's group cleared its first hurdle Tuesday night when the council's budget committee, on a 4-1 vote, approved the bond ordinance. It now goes to the full council; the economic development committee still must act on a separate ordinance creating a tax increment financing district for the project.

Ultimately, Louisville City FC hopes to make a bid to join Major League Soccer. The proposed $50 million stadium would have 10,000 seats but designed to eventually add thousands more.

The team now plays in the United Soccer League at Louisville Slugger Field, where it averages about 8,500 fans per game, Mountjoy said.

The city’s options on roughly 30 acres at Adams and Cabel streets expire on November 10.

But at a public hearing Tuesday afternoon, one speaker urged the city to slow down and more thoroughly examine a series of concerns about the planned public investment. Jordan Harris, founder of the Louisville-based Pegasus Institute think tank, also said local officials need to give people more time to weigh in.

He argued that the public cost on the bonds, after taking interest payments into account, is $42 million. Even after the developers return the $14.5 million to the city, he said, that would result in a $26 million investment.

Harris also questioned the public good of the project, noting that it is proposed on land not far from Waterfront Park.  

 “There are many other parts of our city that are economically distressed -- more so, frankly, than our waterfront -- that could use an investment of $30 million,” he said.

But Barbara Sexton Smith, whose Metro Council district includes the proposed project area, said “the greatest risk, possibly the only real meaningful risk to us is if we do not do this project.”

Sexton Smith, D-4th District, said she trusts the local investment group that owns the team.

“These folks who put this proposal together, I believe, would not have brought this to us as fellow Louisvillians unless they believed it was financially stable, it was legally sound and it would not hurt the city (but) it would help pole vault the city,” she said.

The economic development committee did not take any action at its meeting. The council’s budget committee also was discussing the bond ordinance at a meeting Tuesday night.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer released a statement following the vote:

"I’m pleased that the Metro Council budget committee voted tonight  to move forward on this exciting economic development project that takes an underused, very visible swath of land and creates a vibrant new stadium district that builds on the momentum downtown, in Nulu and Butchertown. This is a smart opportunity, and when smart opportunities to move our city forward come up, we’re going to grab them.”

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved.