Mecklenbug County says it will pause negotiations about rebuilding Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth for minor-league soccer until it leans if Charlotte can land a Major League Soccer team.
For more than a year, the county, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and the Charlotte Independence team have been discussing a plan to spend $24 million remaking the 1930s era stadium.
Charlotte is among 10 cities that have expressed interest in landing an MLS team. Bruton Smith, the billionaire race track owner, and his son, Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Sports, are spearheading Charlotte’s most recent effort.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Thursday that the Smiths have “a lot of energy, and lots of professional sports experience.”
“MLS has great momentum and a tremendous future, and so does our city. Charlotte would be a great addition to the league, and an MLS club would be a great addition to Charlotte. We are working with local leaders on an application, and hope to have more to say in February,” Smith said in a statement Thursday.
Interested expansion owners must submit applications by Jan. 31. The two first expansion teams – which would be the 25th and 26th in the league – would have to OK an expansion fee of $150 million each, and will be announced during the second or third quarter of 2017.
They would begin play by 2020, MLS said.
Jim Garges, Mecklenburg’s Parks and Recreation director, said it makes sense to wait before moving forward with the current Memorial Stadium plan.
“We’ll have to see how it plays out,” Garges said. “There are a lot of unknowns. We have to see if we can get a franchise here. I hope so.”
Smith declined to comment Friday about where his proposed expansion team would play, and whether the Charlotte bid would focus on Memorial Stadium. Garges said he hasn’t spoken with the Smiths either.
The stadium now has about 20,000 seats. It’s mostly used for high school football.
The county’s plan calls for a smaller stadium, with 10,870 seats. There would be about 4,900 general admission seats, 1,100 club seats and 3,600 grass berm seats.
Memorial Stadium has a stone wall that rings the field. Under the new plan, the wall would be preserved, though it would have to rebuilt piece-by-piece because the field needs to be widened to make it 75 yards across.
Under the current plan, the county could build a second upper bowl if Charlotte ever landed an MLS team.
Garges said the entire stadium might have to be built at once if the Smiths are successful.
“The theory originally was you would build a lower bowl and design it so you could put an upper bowl on later,” he said. “If you are ready from the get go, it's a whole another project.”
Garges had hoped to start construction work this spring. Construction was supposed to start spring 2017 and would have lasted 18 months.
The plan called for the CRVA, county and the Charlotte Independence to each spend $8 million.