The president of the Charlotte Independence, a minor-league soccer team that worked on a plan to renovate Memorial Stadium, said in an e-mail Wednesday to City Council that his own architectural plans for the site were used without his consent to help Marcus Smith try to win a Major League Soccer team.
Jim McPhilliamy said in his e-mail that in the spring of 2016 he spent $230,000 “of our own money” to commission an architectural plan to renovate the stadium so his soccer team and lacrosse team could use it. The plan allowed for the stadium to be expanded a second time if Charlotte landed an MLS team.
In the fall, he said those plans were presented to MLS to help launch Smith’s bid for a team. He said they were shown to MLS “without our knowledge or consent.”
McPhilliamy said he doesn’t know how his plans were shown to MLS. He said he was contacted by someone in the league office who told him his renderings for the stadium looked great, and McPhilliamy said he was stunned because he hadn’t shown them to MLS.
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Mike Burch is the chief strategy officer for Speedway Motorsports, the company that Marcus Smith is the CEO.
“We haven’t seen the Independence’s architectural plans,” he said. “They have never shared them with us.”
Burch said Marcus Smith is committed to bringing an MLS team to the city.
“Our goal is to bring an MLS club and a first class club to Charlotte,” he said. “We have been working closely with the commissioner and MLS. Every step has been appropriate.”
McPhilliamy said that if the city and county pursue the MLS bid, he may have to close his soccer and lacrosse team, in part because of the indecision of whether or not the city will land the MLS team.
“So, our team – the Charlotte Independence – who laid a lot of the groundwork for our community’s ability to have a chance for MLS – is now faced with a situation where we have no viable short-term or long-term stadium solution in Charlotte if you pass the funding for Marcus’ MLS bid,” McPhilliamy wrote. “We have been run over in this process. We will be a Charlotte franchise without a home field – which is not a sustainable situation.”
Marcus Smith, general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the son of billionaire Bruton Smith couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Independence team is a member of the United States Soccer League. The league requires its playing field to be wider than a normal football field, so the team has played its homes games at Ramblewood Soccer Complex.
But McPhilliamy has hoped to move his team to Memorial Stadium. His plan called for a $24 million rebuild of the stadium, with his team, the city and the county each spending $8 million.
That would have built a new 10,000-seat stadium. Under that plan, if the city ever landed an MLS team, the stadium could be expanded with another 10,000 or 15,000 seats, along with luxury suites.
When MLS announced in December that Marcus Smith and his father Bruton Smith were seeking a team, the county put those plans on hold.
Marcus Smith has proposed a $175 million stadium on the site. The city and county would each spend $43.75 million.
Burch said the Independence’s plans to renovate the stadium in two phases wasn’t enough to land an MLS team.
The deadline for his expansion bid is Jan. 31. Mecklenburg Commissioners could vote Thursday morning on the plan. The City Council could vote Friday afternoon.
McPhilliamy said the county asked him “to stand down” on his plans for the stadium and support the Marcus Smith bid. He said the county told him they would ask Marcus Smith to partner with him so there would be “soccer continuity” in Charlotte.
“Right now, I am being asked by many people to back a bid for Major League Soccer that, if successful, will likely harm both of my teams,” he wrote in the e-mail. “We have tried to partner with the Smiths multiple times appealing to their sense of community but to no avail. Meetings with them have produced nothing toward a partnership.”
He added, “A lot of lip service has been paid to “partnering” but it is actually in their economic best interests if we relocate to another city if they win their bid – and they know that. While it would be the right thing for them to enter in a partnership of some kind with us, there is no economic incentive for them to do so.”
McPhilliamy said the county has asked him to move his 2017 season to the Matthews Sports Complex. But he said Matthews has told him that he can’t play there until June, which he said “throws our ability play this season into doubt.”
MLS could announce four expansion teams this year, or it could announce two new teams this year and two other teams at a later date. McPhilliamy said his investors are willing to continue funding the team, but only if it has a long-term stadium plan.
“I need some sort of long-term visibility toward a financially viable and Division 2 rule compliant stadium solution,” he told the Observer. “I had one with Memorial and now I don’t. I understand the reason I don’t, but want to make sure everyone else is aware too.”