Politics & Government

Is Charlotte City Council warming to idea of helping to pay for new soccer stadium?

Is Charlotte City Council willing to give soccer a second chance?

After months of indifference about helping fund a new Major League Soccer stadium in Elizabeth, council members Monday voted to send the proposal to the council’s economic development committee for its July 20 meeting – although no vote is expected to be taken then.

Their vote came after Mecklenburg commissioners indicated earlier this month they might pull their support for the stadium if the city doesn’t participate. The county informally gave the city until August to decide on the stadium.

County manager Dena Diorio’s proposed capital budget includes $71.25 million for the stadium next year, and then another $43.75 million for fiscal year 2020. After that, the county would begin collecting lease payments of $4.25 million a year from the potential soccer team.

The original deal called for the city to also spend $43.75 million. But former deputy city manager Ron Kimble, who is now working part time for the city, told council members Monday the city might now only contribute $30 million toward the $175 million stadium.

He said the city has other projects competing for the same tourism dollars, such as a request by the Foundation for the Carolinas for $4.5 million to renovate the Carolina Theatre.

Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, is trying to land a Major League Soccer franchise for Charlotte and submitted a bid for a team in late January. Smith and the county propose tearing down Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center, replacing them with a 20,000-seat stadium.

The MLS has said it will add four new expansion teams. The league could award all four franchises this year, or it could award two teams in 2017 and delay making a decision on the final two franchises until later this decade.

“We didn’t have an opportunity to fully vet it before,” said at-large council member Julie Eiselt, a Democrat, about the decision to send the stadium proposal to the committee. “Some residents want it, some don’t want it. We have a responsibility to take it through the process.”

Meanwhile, council members urged public comment from the community on the proposal.

“Our commitment to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte has not wavered, nor has the support of thousands of people in this community who are looking to their elected officials to endorse this plan that will positively impact our region for generations to come,” read a statement from MLS4CLT, the group, led by Smith, bidding for the local MLS team.

Eiselt said the council’s decision Monday wasn’t driven by the county.

“The county’s timeline is their timeline; it’s not our timeline,” she said.

Eiselt has previously said she opposes the stadium deal in its current form.

Gregg Watkins, who handles communications for Mayor Jennifer Roberts, said the city needs more information.

“She wants more input from the public,” he said. “She wants to hear from the Elizabeth community, from the Charlotte Independence (a minor-league soccer team that would be affected), and whether people want it or not.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs