The next step in Columbus Crew SC’s new era took place on Thursday afternoon.
With new owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and Pete Edwards, MLS commissioner Don Garber, former Crew player Kyle Martino and a number of city officials on stage, as well as nearly 4,300 Black & Gold fans in attendance, the Crew broke ground on the club’s new downtown stadium set to open in July 2021, which will move the team from the outskirts of Columbus to the heart of the city’s Arena District.
“This is our 20th groundbreaking for an MLS Stadium,” Garber said at the event. “The next couple of years, that'll grow to 25. So you think about the first stadium ever built in our league was built here in Columbus. Now 20 years later, we're breaking ground on our 20th Stadium.”
After updated renderings for the new stadium were approved by Columbus’ Downtown Commission in late September, the Crew announced on Thursday morning that all contract contingencies with current landowners, Nationwide Realty Investors, have been waived and the pending purchase of the land will close by the end of the month. Just a few hours later, thousands of fans marched on to the new site for the first time, shovels went into the ground and the celebrations began.
These initial steps of building the $300 million stadium is a far cry from where the Black & Gold franchise was just two years ago. With the threat of relocation, the Save The Crew movement rose and, with the eventual help of the Haslam and Edwards families, kept the team in Columbus.
As emcee Martino remarked, the team is in a very good place on the field with president Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Caleb Porter running the show. But going forward, it is about getting support fitting of this new stadium.
According to Bezbatchenko, that begins with the final season at MAPFRE Stadium and builds toward the team’s future home.
“Obviously, we have our waitlist deposit that starts for the 2021 season. But what I would say is, our is focus is on 2020,” Bezbatchenko said when asked about season ticket numbers.
“How can we take it to a whole new level next year and get to 10,000 or 11,000, season ticket members? And so we're asking the community to come together and champion soccer and be a part of what we are even before we finish building the stadium.”
When the Haslam and Edwards families took over investor-operator rights of the Crew, they did so with a plan. They didn’t hope to get the Black & Gold organization back to where it was previously but to raise the level higher than ever before.
The renderings of and the financial investment in the new stadium is a sign of the future of the Crew and the support shown on a Thursday afternoon, when many of the fans in attendance would normally be at work, is a testament to the direction the club is headed.
“That's fantastic. That blew away our estimates,” Bezbatchenko said of the attendance. “We knew we were going to have a fantastic crowd, but 4,300 — that'll certainly fill up the supporters' section. But it means a lot to the club after what these fans have gone through over the last two years and for it to culminate, at least at this point, in the groundbreaking, it's a fantastic day.”
Correction: A previous version of this article listed an incorrect breakdown of the funding for the Columbus Crew's new stadium. This has been corrected.