ORLANDO, Fla. – On Tuesday night in downtown Orlando, Church Street bars, businesses and patrons went through the paces in what amounted to a dress rehearsal for 2015.
That’s because the site for the $84 million soccer-specific stadium that will be built for Orlando City SC lies just a few blocks east, easy walking distance from what is a vibrant downtown scene ready to serve the up to 18,000 fans who will pace the stadium on game days once construction is complete.
And although Orlando City president Phil Rawlins said the “design phase” for the facility had not yet begun, it’s clear location won’t be an issue when, if all goes to plan, the club breaks ground sometime next spring.
“We expect to have, in my opinion, the best stadium location in the whole of MLS,” Rawlins told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re right in the heart of downtown, two blocks from Church Street, the entertainment and social district of the whole of the city. It’s an absolutely fantastic location.”
And although specifics are not yet locked in – after all, government approval only arrived last month – Rawlins did reveal a few of the features that will make it into the plans once that process begins in earnest.
First, spectators will be “low and tight” with “high rake on the seats” to create the best atmosphere possible. That also means a roof, according to Rawlins, although how many sides will be covered is still yet to be determined and will be based on budget constraints.
When the designs do come out, don’t be surprised to see design elements from other MLS stadiums worked into the plans. There’s a reason Orlando City have hit the road so often since moving to Central Florida.
“We’ve taken our time over the last three years to visit a lot, an awful lot, of MLS stadiums,” Rawlins said. “One of the reasons for doing that was to steal. It was to pinch the best bits, and take the things that we really like and the things we see that work and work in this environment to bring that into the stadium.”
To facilitate the creation of that environment, Rawlins said the club would enlist the help of their supporters – most notably the Iron Lion Firm and Ruckus groups – to get input as how to best serve their needs.
One possibility is a supporters bar to serve the section for the club’s rowdiest fans, similar to the one affiliate Sporting KC have at Sporting Park, an idea Rawlins said was appealing but must, once again, fit into the overall budget.
Now that Orlando City are officially MLS’ 21st team, those design decisions will start coming to the forefront. But no matter what ends up going up at the corner of Terry and Church streets, Rawlins said it would be molded with the club’s purple-clad faithful in mind.
“We’re designing a stadium for our fans. We’re designing a stadium that’s going to be loud, full of atmosphere and create, in my opinion, one of the most intense atmospheres in the whole of MLS,” he said.
“We’re going to make the coolest place to watch football, not only in the Florida and the Southeast, but hopefully in the whole of the country.”