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City deals another big blow to the effort to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte

Children gather near the stage in an attempt to grab free MLS soccer balls during the MLSCLT rally at First Ward Park in Charlotte on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
Children gather near the stage in an attempt to grab free MLS soccer balls during the MLSCLT rally at First Ward Park in Charlotte on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The effort to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte has run into another major obstacle.

On Thursday afternoon, the Charlotte City Council’s Economic Development Committee declined to vote on an offer from Mecklenburg County Commissioners to deed the Memorial Stadium site to the city. The offer included contingency language that it must be used for MLS, according to a tweet from Mayor Jennifer Roberts.

The latest hurdle comes two weeks after county commissioners voted to give the city the stadium site, and withhold any additional funding for the proposed $175 million stadium.

The city, commissioners said, is better equipped to deal with stadium funding and pro sports teams.

“They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that,” said Republican Commissioner Jim Puckett, whose proposal to deed the stadium to the city (and fund 13 park and greenway projects from a 2008 bond) ultimately won approval from other commissioners.

The remaining balance – more than $100 million – for the 20,000-seat stadium will either have to be covered by the ownership group, called MLS4CLT and headed by race track executive Marcus Smith, or the city.

MLS4CLT said the group remains optimistic about its chances of landing an expansion team, which it says could bring “jobs, entertainment and economic benefits that will add to the region’s vitality.”

“We are confident there is a solution that will bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte and are working hard to make this happen. To win an expansion club, we need a strong public-private partnership to demonstrate Charlotte’s enthusiasm for the sport and league,” MLS4CLT said in a statement.

As part of the original deal, Mecklenburg County would have paid $71.25 million for the stadium next year and then another $30 million for fiscal year 2020. After that, the county would have collected lease payments of $4.25 million a year from the potential soccer team.

The original framework for the deal also called for the city to also contribute $43.5 million – although the city has recently said it can only contribute up to $30 million.

In an email, Puckett said that if the city has no need for Memorial Stadium for specific MLS purposes, he hopes the idea can be revisited of renovating the facility for the Charlotte Independence, the city’s minor-league soccer team.

“In as much as the county would still like to participate via the donation of the stadium site as part of an attempt to land a MLS team, I suspect we will remain willing to make the stadium available to the city,” Puckett said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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