Louisville City FC fans during a home game last season. | Courtesy of LouCity FC/Michael Baldwin

A few Louisville Metro Council members say they are open to providing some government incentives to help Louisville City FC build a soccer stadium in Louisville.

Pat Mulvihill

Pat Mulvihill, D-10, told IL that none of the big investment projects, such as the KFC Yum! Center or the Omni Hotel, would have existed without public support, and the same goes for a soccer stadium.

“If we’re serious about building it … we’re going to have to participate,” he said.

To help pay off debt on the $238 million KFC Yum! Center, the city has committed more than $200 million through 2039, and the public will pay about half of the $300 million cost for the Omni Hotel project.

Public funds also helped pay for the $40 million Slugger Field, which serves as the home of the Louisville Bats — and Louisville City FC, which leases the venue at $5,000 per home game and incurs additional expenses related to converting the baseball field into a soccer field.

LouCity Chairman John Neace has said that without a soccer-specific stadium, the club probably would leave Louisville because it cannot generate enough revenue from sponsorships and concessions. All of the concession sales at each LouCity home game go to the baseball team, as do up to $15,000 of LouCity’s annual suite sales. Neace said the soccer club lost more than $1 million last year.

Club officials have said that they would prefer building a stadium in Louisville — but they have not ruled out locations in Southern Indiana. City officials in New Albany, for example, have told IL that they’ve had preliminary discussions with Neace about developing a stadium there. Neace pegged the stadium cost at about $25 million. The club plans to release more detailed proposals in about a month.

Mulvihill said that a local soccer complex that could host other sports, especially youth tournaments, which “would be a boon” for Louisville. The councilman said he has attended a couple of LouCity FC matches and has three children who play soccer.

The bulk of the team’s fans live in Jefferson County, he said, and he hopes the city can find a way to persuade the club to build its stadium in Louisville, rather than Southern Indiana.

Angela Leet

Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, agreed.

“I hope they stay in downtown Louisville or near downtown Louisville,” she told IL.

In general, she said, the soccer club should be eligible for incentive programs just like any other business. Leet said she would make a decision on whether and how to support stadium construction once she sees the club’s proposal.

“Right now I would not rule anything out,” she said.

Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, said the city should not divert any funds toward a soccer stadium so long as it has more pressing needs, including housing, infrastructure and public safety.

Brent Ackerson

Ackerson told IL that given the Yum! Center struggles, he would not be willing to support issuing bonds for a soccer stadium, fearing the city would end up having to pay more than initially expected.

Ackerson said he wanted to avoid a situation like what has occurred with the state’s pension fund, which state leaders for years have failed to fund properly. The city cannot continue to afford “living on credit,” Ackerson said, and needs to use its available resources on pressing needs, including more police officers and to repair sidewalks and roads. The city is facing nearly half a billion dollars in deferred maintenance alone, he said.

Nonetheless, even Ackerson said that he would consider creating a tax increment financing district for a soccer stadium, especially if it were built in a blighted area.

When economic growth occurs within a TIF district, property taxes collected from the growth are reinvested only within the district — not, like other property taxes, for the operations of the city as a whole. That means the tax dollars collected in a TIF can be used for purposes such as improving roads — but only if those roads are within the district. The TIF funds also can be used to help pay back bonds for a project within the district.

The city has used such devices to try to foster growth: For example, the city created a six-square-mile TIF around the Yum! Center to capture property taxes to pay back the arena’s bonds. However, the projected revenue does not always materialize: In the Yum! Center’s case, the recession hampered growth in the TIF district, leaving revenue far short of expectations.

Louisville Metro Government has had to pitch in its maximum $9.8 million annually in the last few years to enable the Louisville Arena Authority, which oversees the venue’s finances, to make its bond payment.

The front page of the soccer stadium study

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has said he supports the soccer stadium in general, but that the bulk of the finances would have to come from the private sector. The city paid $75,000 for a soccer stadium feasibility study.

Mayor Fischer’s office last week referred IL’s questions to Louisville Forward, the metro government’s economic development arm, which declined to answer questions about whether it would be open to considering specific types of incentives, such as direct financial support, a tax moratorium or the creation of a tax increment financing district.

Louisville Forward directed IL to an FAQ that it released along with the feasibility study, in which the city says that it has not yet decided to participate in building the stadium.

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Boris Ladwig
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.