Major League Soccer officials are visiting Charlotte next week, and the group that submitted a bid for an expansion team here is hosting a rally that fans can attend to show their support.
The MLS visit on July 18 wraps up with a “Power the Pitch” rally at First Ward Park starting at 5 p.m., according to a statement Tuesday from MLS4CLT, the ownership group led by race track executive Marcus Smith that is working to bring MLS to Charlotte. The group says fans can start gathering at 4:30 for the event, which will include food trucks, entertainment and giveaways before MLS officials address the crowd.
League officials will meet with city and county officials, visit the proposed MLS stadium site (Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth) and meet with business and civic leaders, as well as “prominent members of Charlotte’s soccer community” before the rally, MLS4CLT said.
MLS4CLT would not say which “prominent members” of the city’s soccer community it was referring to. Jim McPhilliarmy – president of the Charlotte Independence, a minor-league soccer team that had worked on its own plan to renovate Memorial Stadium – said he was not invited and “didn’t really expect to be.”
“We’re really excited to provide MLS leadership with an up-close look at the passion Charlotte has for soccer,” said Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, which operates tracks in Charlotte and around the country. “More importantly, we’re looking forward to showcasing all the different ways Major League Soccer can positively impact our community.”
MLS4CLT recently launched a campaign to drive fan engagement and awareness of its efforts. The group is encouraging Charlotteans to reach out to their elected officials to voice their opinion about bringing an MLS expansion team to Charlotte.
The visit by MLS officials comes as the public funding portion remains up in the air for a proposed 20,000-seat soccer-specific stadium at the site of Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center.
The stadium proposal calls for Smith to pay $87.5 million for the stadium, and the city and county to each pay $43.75 million. The county’s proposed capital budget included $71.25 million for the stadium next year, and then another $43.5 million for fiscal year 2020. After that, the county would begin collecting lease payments of $4.25 million a year from the potential soccer team. The total cost of the stadium has been estimated to be $175 million.
MLS officials are visiting Cary on July 19. League officials have also visited several other prospective markets, including Nashville last week.
County manager Dena Diorio said MLS president Mark Abbott will meet with Mecklenburg Commissioners on the morning of July 18. It’s not clear yet who will attend, and whether the meeting will be open to the public. The state’s open meetings laws require that meetings be open if there is a majority of an elected body present.
Abbott also plans to meet with city officials, who have been more hesitant than commissioners about funding the stadium. The city said Tuesday it doesn’t know yet who will attend that meeting.
The City Council’s economic development committee will discuss the city’s contribution July 20. The city said recently it can only afford $30 million towards the stadium – not $43.5 million.