Some Charlotte City Council members want the city to consider building a soccer stadium for a possible professional team at the former Eastland Mall site, rather than at Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth.
Under a proposal discussed by Mecklenburg County commissioners last week in closed session, the city and county would each spend $50 million toward building a new stadium. The local ownership group of Bruton Smith and his son, Marcus, who are working to land the Major League Soccer team, would also spend $50 million.
To make room for the MLS stadium, Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center would be demolished.
But some on the council want a closer look at Eastland, which the city has been trying to redevelop unsuccessfully for nearly five years. The city bought the 72-acre mall site in 2012 for $13.2 million. It then spent nearly $1 million demolishing the mall.
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Democrat John Autry, whose last day on City Council was Monday, spoke with Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble about the Eastland site Monday afternoon. Council members were scheduled to discuss the stadium proposal in closed session that night.
“The city should look at the possibility of Eastland for use as an MLS facility with the same kind of rigor and analytics (as Memorial Stadium),” Autry said. “Does it make more sense doing it there than tearing down Memorial Stadium, which is a historic landmark, when we have 72 acres sitting at the end of Central Avenue?”
Autry, whose district covered the Eastland site, has left council to become a member of the N.C. House.
Democrat Patsy Kinsey, who represents an area adjacent to Eastland, said the city should give the site strong consideration.
“I could not support it at Memorial Stadium,” she said. “I’m going to have to have a lot more information before I can support it anyway because of the money. But I certainly think they should look at Eastland.”
Democrat Julie Eiselt, an at-large council member, also said Eastland should be an option.
“I would love to see that included in the consideration,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to rule out anything.”
The city declined to comment on the stadium sites Tuesday.
Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, is part of a team that’s working to bring the MLS to Charlotte.
He said an analysis of different sites concluded Memorial Stadium would be the best for a new soccer stadium. That’s in large part because the stadium would be on the funded portion of Lynx Gold Line streetcar – Phase 2 of which is starting construction soon – and would be near hotels, restaurants and other businesses that would benefit from and serve soccer fans.
The city’s long-term plans for the streetcar calls for it to be built to Eastland, but there is no funding yet.
Other sports franchises have moved to uptown within the last dozen years.
The Charlotte Knights, after struggling for years with low attendance when they played in Fort Mill, S.C., moved to BB&T Ballpark in 2014. The team’s attendance soared at the uptown ballpark.
And the Charlotte Hornets’ original arena, the Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road, was demolished in 2007, after the reconstituted Charlotte NBA franchise moved to what is now the Spectrum Center arena. That facility opened in 2005 on East Trade Street.
The proposal being considered calls for the city to use hotel/motel tax money to pay for its $50 million. Building the stadium at Eastland could make the required public tax dollars an easier sell.
The city has tried to redevelop the site numerous times, including a failed plan for movie studios. The city last year sold 11 acres of the site to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a new K-8 school.
All interested MLS expansion owners must submit their applications by Jan. 31.