Charlotte’s City Council met Thursday to talk about a proposal that the city spend tens of millions of dollars to help attract a Major League Soccer team to town. Consultant Ron Kimble spelled out the goal of the meeting:
“This is a time to pause and to learn and to do great due diligence,” he said.
Apparently that time hasn’t arrived yet.
Over the next hour, he and other soccer backers proceeded to trumpet what a no-brainer this should be. “Soccer is bursting on the scenes,” Kimble said. “Soccer is becoming the second-fastest growing sport in America.” “The attraction of soccer in this community continues to grow.”
Prospective owner Marcus Smith similarly talked about the popularity of the sport, and Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, got so excited he misspoke and gushed “MLS is the most popular sport in the world.”
This is due diligence?
Don’t worry, though. Kimble concluded: “We are resetting, we are going to do it the Charlotte way, we are going to do it with the proper due diligence to make sure that we talk about why soccer. (And the council will) arrive at the decision you’re comfortable with, whatever that decision might be.”
The essential question facing the city and the county is not whether Major League Soccer would be a nice addition to the city. It probably would be. The question is how much in taxpayer money, if any, should Charlotte and Mecklenburg County spend to help Smith and his father Bruton Smith land a franchise. The city was asked to chip in $43.75 million, and the county already agreed in principle to put in about $115 million (some of which it would recoup).
Yet at Thursday’s meeting, the council heard for more than an hour about how soccer would make us the next great city before a single word was raised about what it would cost. There was almost no discussion of the risks the project could bring, or even an even-handed look at MLS, which has struggled to gain TV viewers and attract fans in some cities.
Organizers say that such details will be considered in a second meeting a month from now. But as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.”
It’s especially appropriate to cite the great civil rights leader in this case considering the context in which this soccer debate is taking place. We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the unrest that followed.
Those tragic events intensified a conversation about economic mobility in Charlotte. The council sent a letter to the community vowing to address the racial and economic gap dividing the city by focusing on jobs, affordable housing and police-community relations. A task force released dozens of recommendations, yet little has happened publicly since then. But now, as City Manager Marcus Jones said Thursday, is “the perfect time” to consider throwing millions at a pro sports team?
Not without due diligence – real due diligence.