Major League Soccer expansion franchise Orlando City SC will play the entirety of their debut season in 2015 at the Citrus Bowl, thanks to a snag involving land rights for the club’s proposed soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando.
OCSC will now open the 2016 season in the new stadium, expected to be built one block west of the Amway Center. The club had initially expected to spend at least a portion of its debut season there after receiving the go-ahead on the construction agreement from the Orlando City Council late last month.
The club made the announcement on Monday.
Orlando City executive Brett Lashbrook told MLSsoccer.com on Monday that the club made the decision partly because it was unclear when the land deal would be resolved by the City of Orlando, leaving OCSC unsure when the stadium would open next season.
Rather than risk what Lashbrook called a potentially “messy” midseason transition between stadiums, the club opted to play the entirety of the season in the recently renovated Citrus Bowl and open the new stadium in the spring of 2016.
The club also began accepting deposits on season tickets on Monday, and Lashbrook stated that OCSC executives felt uncomfortable not knowing what they were asking of their fans without a stadium timeline in place.
“The more we looked into it, we started wondering, ‘Why would we try and make this kind of change in August or September?’” Lashbrook said. “We want to get it right. We don’t want to make an announcement [on the new stadium] before we get a shovel in the ground. We decided to just play the first year in the Citrus Bowl, and then make a big splash in 2016.”
The Orlando Sentinel reported on Monday that OCSC have purchased most of the two square blocks of land on West Church Street where the stadium is supposed to be built, but the owners of one of the parcels appear to be holding out for a lucrative deal before construction can begin.
That parcel is the Faith Deliverance Temple, a family-owned church. According to the Sentinel, City officials have been in talks with the church’s leaders for nearly a year about a potential sale, but church leaders balked at a $1.5 million offer from the City – more than twice the appraised value – and countered with a selling price of $35 million.
An Orlando judge ruled in January that the city can exercise eminent domain to seize the property, but Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said at the same time that the city was willing to go back to the table with church leaders in order to complete a deal.
“We are still in negotiations with the church for that property,” city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser told the Sentinel on Monday. “We’re very hopeful of reaching an agreement.”
Lashbrook would not comment on then City’s ongoing negotiations with the church, but he insisted that given the unpredictable timeline for construction to begin, the club was unsure when play would begin at the new stadium.
OCSC execs also spoke with their counterparts from other clubs who made midseason stadium transitions – Vancouver, Dallas and Real Salt Lake – and the club reached an agreement to postpone the new stadium’s opening until 2016 and play at the Citrus Bowl.
“Our backup option [the Citrus Bowl] is less than a mile away, with $200 million-worth of renovations,” Lashbrook said. “It was kind of like, ‘Hey, why are tripping over ourselves trying to read the crystal ball? We have a great option right down the street.'”
Lashbrook also said that despite the recent delay, the soccer-specific stadium project is “100 percent still on” and that the club is still expecting a ground-breaking ceremony sometime later this year.