The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are discussing a proposal to renovate the city's historic American Legion Memorial Stadium in partnership with Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, to transform it into the home venue for an MLS expansion team, according to media reports.
The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners will host a community forum on Tuesday to seek public input on the $175 million plan, which would entail a $43.75 million contribution from the city and an equal amount from the county, with Smith's future MLS club paying the remaining balance of $87.5 million plus expansion fees and any additional construction costs. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal two days later.
The Charlotte Business Journalreported in early January that “the city's contribution would come from tourism taxes that generate revenue from hotel, restaurant and rental car levies,” and that two other stadium sites are under consideration but that Memorial Stadium is “the clear favorite.”
Located in the uptown Elizabeth neighborhood, Memorial Stadium is an historical landmark that opened in 1936 – dedicated by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – and holds 17,000 spectators. Used mainly for high-school sports over the years, it is presently home to the Charlotte Hounds of Major League Lacrosse and would require substantial upgrades for MLS use.
The USL's Charlotte Independence, who began play in 2015 and are affiliated with the Colorado Rapids, have previously expressed interest in making Memorial Stadium their permanent home, albeit via a much more modest refurbishment concept. Under the new renovation plan, the future MLS team would operate the facility under a lease from the county, setting aside several days a year for city and county use.
“They’ve agreed to put in $12.5 million to help facilitate the construction, and then they’ll pay lease payments over a 25-year period of $4.26 million,” Mecklenburg County manager Dena Diorio told The Charlotte Post last week, noting that the stadium is rarely-used and “in a state of disrepair” at present.
“The county will own the facility. The team will operate and maintain the facility. They’ll be responsible for all the operating expenses associated with that, but they’ll also be entitled to keep all the revenue.”
Smith and his father Bruton, whose Charlotte-based company operates several of NASCAR's biggest venues, are recent entries into the MLS expansion race but are eager to be considered for the league's next round of growth.
“We have just a few days here to get our application in,” Smith told The Charlotte Post. “MLS outlined the steps for the next-round franchises to be awarded, and gave us the deadline. Since then, we have been working feverishly to wrap up those requirements. The main requirement there is, in addition of course to identifying a franchisee – which is us – then really getting into the location and securing the land and securing a stadium plan and financing. That’s really the next step.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has set Jan. 31 as the deadline for all interested ownership groups to file formal expansion bids.