RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina FC’s measured campaign for MLS expansion revealed its next phase on Wednesday when the club unveiled plans for a 22,000-seat soccer-specific stadium in downtown Raleigh at an event attended by MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott.
Located just north of the downtown core, the potential stadium could be expanded to 28,000 and would anchor a mixed-use development featuring office, hospitality and retail space, housing and public parking.
Initial renderings revealed Wednesday include a canopy covering all four sides of the stadium, a translucent outer skin lit by LED lights and a pair of office buildings adjacent to the stadium that would include ground-floor retail and restaurant space. The club has already partnered with local developer Kane Realty to help build the mixed-use development.
“I think we have one of the best locations that anyone could possibly dream of,” said Steve Malik, owner of NASL side NCFC, after unveiling the stadium plans. “If they wanted to check every box, that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’ve got lots of millennials living around it. We’ve got great walkability. Beyond the soccer, we’ve got 24-hour, [365-day] use for that property and that’s going to bring a lot of value to the community. Soccer is just the catalyst and the engine that allows us to make it happen.”
The club are looking to build on a 13-acre plot owned by North Carolina known as the State Government Complex. The site is located just off of Capital Boulevard, the main thoroughfare leading into downtown Raleigh, and is located within walking distance of several bars and restaurants at Seaboard Station shopping center.
Malik said on Wednesday the club have begun talks with the state government about a potential public-private partnership to use the land, and that they’ve received positive feedback from North Carolina, Wake County and City of Raleigh officials about the potential mixed-use project.
The club estimated that the stadium would cost $150 million to construct, and pegged the cost of the entire mixed-use development at $750 million. Malik said that the project would receive “significant” private investment, but indicated that he’d seek public assistance – perhaps in the form of a land deal, perhaps in an exchange that would see the club receive assistance in exchange for leasing office space to the government – during negotiations.
Malik didn’t offer many details about a potential timeline for a stadium deal, but repeatedly said that Wednesday’s announcement “is the beginning of a journey” and told reporters that NCFC “feel like we can pull [the project] to conclusion in time to meet the timeline that MLS has laid out.”
The league has said it plans to announce two expansion teams out of a group of 12 applicants by the end of 2017, with two more to follow at a later date. Malik acknowledged that it might be tough to get a stadium deal done in time for NCFC to become one of the first two expansion teams, but was very confident about his team’s overall prospects, telling reporters he thought it was a question of “when, not if” MLS would come to Raleigh.
“I feel great about the timelines,” he said. “I think we’ve lined up a really great plan, and frankly we’ve got to execute some more, but I think it’s important that we play our game.”
Malik also said that he’s in the process of looking to add to NCFC’s ownership group. The club has hired an investment bank to search for and pitch the club to prospective owners who would help finance the stadium and, should the club be awarded an expansion team, assist with MLS’ expansion fee.
Calling it a potential “crown jewel” and a “cornerstone facility,” Malik sees the stadium as a gateway from downtown Raleigh’s relatively underdeveloped north end through the Halifax Mall greenspace and into the city’s expanding core. Abbott, touring potential MLS expansion cities this week, agreed, saying he thought the venue could serve as a catalyst for the surrounding area.
“I think there is a compelling vision, not just for trying to bring Major League Soccer, but to try and connect that area with the downtown area,” said Abbott, who took a helicopter tour of downtown Raleigh and the stadium site with Malik following the announcement. “I think that’s sort of what [stood out] a lot about today.”