Politics & Government

Marcus Smith says he’ll bid on Major League Soccer team for Charlotte

Marcus Smith confirmed Monday he will move ahead with his bid for a Major League Soccer team by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, even though Charlotte City Council last week declined to consider spending $43.75 million to help fund the stadium.

Smith said in a tweet Monday that he will send in an application and that the city “still has time to consider investment of existing tourism $ in project.”

At news conference Monday afternoon, Speedway Motorsports executive Mike Burch said Smith will ask the city for the original request of $43.75 million. He said he believes council members will ultimately vote for subsidizing the project.

“The city is trying to put forth tourism dollars, and we think this is a great use of those dollars,” Burch said.

Asked whether the bid would move forward if the city votes against subsidizing the stadium – or if they approve a smaller amount of money – Burch said it’s too early to say.

“We have to consider that at the time,” he said.

He added that there is no deadline for the city to decide whether it will subsidize the project, though the sooner it does, the better. “Every day that goes by that we’re not putting our best foot forward is a day we potentially risk falling behind,” Burch said.

Mecklenburg commissioners Thursday approved a plan that would raze the county-owned Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center to make way for a new 20,000-seat soccer stadium in Elizabeth. The county would spend $43.75 million on the $175 million stadium and the Smiths would spend $12.5 million.

The team would also pay the county $4.25 million a year for 25 years to repay a county loan to build the stadium.

City Council debated last week whether to move forward with also subsidizing the stadium, using hotel/motel occupancy taxes to pay for its $43.75 million share. But council members said they didn’t have enough time to vet the proposal, and Mayor Jennifer Roberts canceled a planned Friday public hearing and vote.

MLS has said that applications for expansion teams are due Tuesday. Charlotte is one of at least 10 cities that were invited to bid for up to four new teams.

Burch said Monday he believes two more cities have been added to the list, bringing the possible number of cities bidding to 12. Other cities that could be bidding include Raleigh; Sacramento and San Diego, Calif.; Detroit; Nashville, Tenn.; Austin, Tex.; St. Louis, Mo.; Phoenix; and Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.

It’s possible that Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, could ask the city for financial help and then amend his bid to MLS. In an interview with the Observer, Smith said he didn’t have renderings of his new stadium ready, and that he would send them to the league when they were finished.

Burch said he hopes to have those renderings available for the public this spring, though the ownership group has not selected an architect yet, he said.

Burch said he and Smith began discussing the stadium plan with city and county officials in September.

That could be a sore point for some City Council members, who first heard about the plan a week ago. Council member Patsy Kinsey told city staff in a meeting that she and other council members should have been told about the plan earlier.

Last week, some council members, such as at-large representatives Vi Lyles and Julie Eiselt, said they couldn’t support funding a stadium on such short notice. But they left open the possibility of funding the stadium in the future.

After the city pulled out, some Mecklenburg commissioners questioned whether the county’s agreement with Smith was still valid. County Manager Dena Diorio said she believed it was.

Burch was asked whether Marcus Smith has contacted the president of the minor-league Charlotte Independence soccer team, Jim McPhilliamy, about partnering on the MLS bid.

“We have had continued discussions,” Burch said.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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