Thursday vote not certain for Louisville City FC soccer stadium deal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Metro Council approved a funding plan for a professional soccer stadium and mixed-use development in Butchertown on Thursday, capping a month of negotiations meant to protect taxpayers.

The council voted 20-4 to issue $30 million in bonds for the project and also agreed to make the 37-acre area near Cabel and Adams streets a tax-increment financing district. State approval still is needed, however. 

"It's a small investment," councilman Kevin Kramer said. "It's well worth the money."

Investors in Louisville City FC have pushed for a new stadium, which would have 10,000 seats but could be expanded to 30,000, as they seek to make an eventual bid to join Major League Soccer. The team now plays at the Louisville Slugger Field baseball park.

The council’s vote had been postponed after several members questioned whether they were being asked to move too quickly. In recent weeks, Louisville City leaders made concessions, including a guarantee that $130 million in private investment would be spent.

Some council members had raised concerns that there was no guarantee that the private funds actually would be spent.

But the newly crafted contract language appears to allow the developers to void that commitment if they reimburse the city earlier than expected.

Democrat Barbara Sexton Smith, whose downtown-area district includes the stadium site, told WDRB News on Thursday morning that the new deal was a "great agreement."

“If for some reason that development number is not hit, then there is going to be guaranteed language that guarantees that the city’s money is repaid –and how and when that money is repaid,” she said. 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement late Thursday night.

 “I’m pleased that the Metro Council voted to approve this public-private partnership that takes an underused, very visible swath of land and creates a vibrant new soccer stadium district that builds on the city’s momentum and creates over 1,700 jobs. This is a smart opportunity, and when smart opportunities to move our city forward come up, we grab them.”

The bonds would support buying land, addressing any contamination and adding sidewalks and other public infrastructure. As part of the deal, developers have pledged to reimburse the city through $14.5 million in stadium rental and other revenues.

The amended development agreement calls for the Louisville City FC group to ensure that the $130 million is spent. If it is not, then after 20 years the development group would be responsible for paying any balance remaining after subtracting the $14.5 million reimbursement and other annual taxes generated on the site from the $24.1 million purchase price of the property.

But if the $14.5 million is paid back in 10 years -- instead of within the 20-year timeframe in the original development agreement -- those commitments would be "null and void," according to the agreement.

Metro government would buy and own the 37-acre site, although the developers could lease or sell lots. A formula would determine the city's share of land that is sold; if 10 acres are sold, Metro government would get $4.5 million, according to responses Mayor Greg Fischer's office sent to questions by Metro Council members. 

After the developers have reimbursed the $14.5 million, they would own the land. 

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