A rendering of the proposed soccer stadium. | Courtesy of Louisville City FC

Louisville’s pro soccer club plans to build a $40 million, 10,000-seat soccer stadium by 2020, partially on a brownfield about a half mile east of its current home game venue, Slugger Field.

Louisville City FC officials said the club has options on five tracts of land at the intersection of Adams and North Campbell streets and plans to have the city exercise those options before the end of the year, then develop the properties and buy the land back from the city. The club’s plans also include the creation of tax increment financing districts, which would capture property taxes on new developments to help pay back the stadium construction costs.

Mayor Greg Fischer said that the project holds much promise — but he cautioned that many details, including financing, have yet to be worked out.

Club leaders said that eventually the property could see developments near $200 million, including parking garages, hotels, offices and retailers.

John Neace

Standing at the edge of the proposed site, under elevated interstates and a Kentucky lottery billboard and near railroad tracks and a chain link fence that partially obscured abandoned cars, LouCity Chairman John Neace said that the stadium was but the first step for the second-division club to eventually join the sport’s premier North American league, Major League Soccer.

LouCity FC leaders have identified building their own stadium as the top priority to assure the club’s long-term viability. The third-year United Soccer League team leases its home venue, Slugger, from the Louisville Bats for $5,000 per game. The soccer club incurs additional expenses related to converting the baseball field into a soccer field. Concession revenue goes to the Bats, and soccer club officials have said that without a stadium they also are missing out on advertising dollars and stadium naming rights.

While LouCity has achieved success on and off the field in its first two years, reaching the conference finals and ranking among the top two or three teams in attendance, the club has lost money, though the loss got smaller in the second year.

Neace has told Insider that generating a profit may be difficult without a stadium — though revenue streams continue to improve thanks to broadcasting deals. The USL also has said that it would prefer that its teams play in soccer-specific stadiums, or at least as the primary tenants of their venue.

Mike Mountjoy

Board member Mike Mountjoy told Insider Wednesday that while financing details have yet to be worked out, he projected that the club’s 41 owners would have to raise about $10 million toward the stadium construction.

He said that the club projects that it would be able to pay off the debt on the project within 20 years through ticket sales, lease revenues from hosting about 15 events per year, concessions, marketing and naming rights. The club projects to draw about 8,500 fans per home game who would spend about $80,000 on concessions.

Mountjoy said the prime location — 200,000 motorists would drive by the stadium daily — would generate significant interest from advertisers and for naming rights. The club also plans to host youth soccer tournaments and concerts to generate revenue.

Renderings show a rectangular stadium with goals on the north and south sides and roofing over the seats on the east and west sides.

City leaders said in a press release that the project presents a great opportunity to revitalize that part of the Butchertown neighborhood, but they cautioned that may steps yet remain before redevelopment could occur.

Fischer said in a press release that the club and city have been working hard to make the stadium feasible.

“As part of our current negotiations, a development district transforming some blighted downtown property presents great leverage for job growth and exciting development in our city,” he said.

While the city would not say how much it would be willing to commit in public dollars to help make the project a reality, Fischer said that the club’s owners must “commit significant private dollars to the private-public project before the city would commit taxpayer dollars.”

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development arm, said the project has “transformational potential.”
“This is an incredible opportunity to turn disinvested, industrial land immediately adjacent to downtown, at a highly visible entrance point to the city, into as much as $200 million of new investment,” she said. “The edges of downtown are experiencing amazing activity – with $35 million for Waterfront Park Phase IV and more than $200 million investment in Russell transformation to the west, higher education investments just south of the central business district, and neighborhood revitalization from the eastern edges to the river.”

Neace said that the owners got involved in the club because they love soccer and because they believe that professional sports benefit the community. The Butchertown site, too, would improve the city, turning abandoned properties into a vibrant neighborhood.

He said the owners want fans to come to the game, then stay on the site to shop, drink and dine.

Global architecture firm HOK has designed the facility so that it can be expanded to 20,000 seats, the minimum required for first division MLS.

“We’re going to have 20,000 seats,” Neace said. “We’re going to build an MLS stadium.”

Club officials hope to break ground in spring 2019.

Meanwhile, the 2017 USL season began less than three weeks ago. With two victories and one draw, LouCity currently ranks second in the Eastern Conference. The club will host its next game at Slugger at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, when it will face the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the team that is in first place and has won each of its first three matches. Tickets are available at 502 384-8799, [email protected] or at LouisvilleCityFC.com/tickets.

The story has been updated.

 

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.


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