After a proposal to build a 20,000-seat professional soccer stadium collapsed earlier this year, Mecklenburg County unveiled Tuesday a new $31.7 million plan to rebuild Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth.
County Manager Dena Diorio’s plan calls for the county to pay for all of the stadium on its own, without help from the city’s minor-league soccer team, the Charlotte Independence, or from the city of Charlotte.
“It’s our asset, and we believe we should control it,” Diorio told commissioners Tuesday night.
The county offered different plans for commissioners to consider. The most elaborate plan would rebuild Memorial Stadium entirely, with 12,000 new seats or bleachers. There would be new bathrooms, bleachers and a press box. There also would be a Veterans Memorial Plaza facing Charlottetown Avenue, which could have large medallions on the plaza with the seals of the different branches of the armed forces.
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There also was a more modest proposal that would have only 7,350 seats. That would cost $21.3 million.
Commissioners were divided about Diorio’s plan.
Some thought the city of Charlotte and the Independence should help pay for it. Republican Matthew Ridenhour, a Marine veteran, didn’t like the idea of people walking on the medallions.
Others supported her proposal.
Democrat George Dunlap said the county needs to move forward.
“It’s been 10 years, and we are still having this conversation,” he said. “We are spending $40 million on a new recreation center on Eastway Drive. … Money should not be an issue.”
Republican Bill James said the stadium has become the county’s “zombie issue.”
In 2016, the county had a plan to rebuild the stadium for $24 million. The county would have spent about $8 million, and the Independence soccer team and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority also would have each spent $8 million.
But in early 2017, Marcus Smith of Speedway Motorsports announced a bold plan to try to bring a Major League Soccer team to Charlotte. He wanted to build a 20,000-seat stadium on the site, using tens of millions of dollars in county and CRVA funding.
After months of debate, that plan collapsed.
Smith has said he is still trying to bring a team to Charlotte, but he and his partners face long odds. MLS is expected to award a new franchise this week to Nashville, another southeastern city that was seen as one of Charlotte’s competitors.
After the MLS plan collapsed, the county went back to the original, more modest plan. If the Independence didn’t put money into the project up front, they would be charged a lease payment to play there. The team currently plays at the Matthews Sportsplex.
Commissioners voted 7-2 to support Diorio’s plan.
Republicans Ridenhour and Jim Puckett voted no.
Ridenhour said the $31.7 million price tag is too high. Puckett said the county needs to try to get Charlotte City Council to allocate tourism dollars to the project.
“I don’t want to put the burden on property tax owners,” he said.
The county said the stadium would take at least two years to build.