Tom Sorensen

Here’s a sure way to make a Charlotte MLS franchise fail

A potential Major League Soccer franchise in Charlotte could play in a new stadium on the Memorial Stadium site – or be doomed to fail elsewhere.
A potential Major League Soccer franchise in Charlotte could play in a new stadium on the Memorial Stadium site – or be doomed to fail elsewhere.

If Charlotte gets a Major League Soccer team, it can’t build a stadium at what once was Eastland Mall. To stick a team there would be like the prospective owners, among them Speedway Motorsports’ Bruton and Marcus Smith, saying: “We don’t want to attract fans. Is there another even worse location you could recommend? How about we put the MLS team in Waxhaw or Mooresville or Mount Airy?”

I have nothing against the former Eastland Mall site or against East Charlotte. If SouthPark Mall, Carolina Place Mall or Concord Mills were torn down, I wouldn’t build a soccer stadium there, either.

The NFL would succeed anywhere in or around Charlotte that you put it. But for other teams to have even a chance to thrive, they have to play in or near downtown (which many of you call Uptown, and yes I know the story behind it).

Downtown there is synergy between Bank of America Stadium (Panthers), Spectrum Center (Charlotte Hornets) and BB&T BallPark (Charlotte Knights). What do you do downtown? You do many things, among them attend sporting events in places with restaurants and bars nearby.

If the soccer stadium is built where Memorial Stadium and Grady Cole Center now stand, it will be in the Elizabeth neighborhood. From Elizabeth you can touch downtown and have access to the restaurants and bars on Central Avenue and Hawthorne Lane.

The deal between the city, county and the prospective MLS owners has to be palatable. Some people think that any money that aids a professional sports entity is a waste. They’re wrong. But the owners have to pay their share, and we have yet to see such an offer.

I’ve watched good high school football games at Memorial Stadium and, as recently as this summer, very good boxing at Grady Cole Center. But the stadium has ceased to be a destination for premium high school games, and there are alternate sites for boxing. None of them are in east Charlotte, SouthPark or Mount Airy.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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