Orlando City Gets Funding Approval For Soccer Stadium, Paving Way For MLS Franchise
Orange County, Fla., commissioners last night voted 5-2 to "pitch in $20 million in tourist taxes as the county's share" of the proposed $84M, 18,000-seat soccer stadium in downtown Orlando, which "all but guarantees that the city will win" an MLS franchise, according to a front-page piece by Schlueb & Damron of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. The MLS club will "adopt the name and colors" of the purple-clad USL Pro Orlando City FC Lions. The Orlando City Soccer Club has "been in discussions with MLS executives, who said a new franchise would come here if a soccer-specific stadium were built." Orlando City Soccer Club Owner & President Phil Rawlins said of being awarded a franchise, "We're looking at a four- to six-week window to get the documentation finished up, to get a franchise agreement finalized and for an announcement to be made." Schlueb & Damron note after MLS awards a franchise, "only one obstacle would remain before construction starts: the land." Most of the property "already has been bought, but city officials have filed condemnation actions in court to acquire two holdout lots." Rawlins said that he hopes work "can begin in the spring, with construction lasting 15 months and an opening" in summer '15. Public funding for the soccer stadium includes the $20M in tourist taxes approved Tuesday; "$20 million from Orlando; and smaller amounts from other jurisdictions, including $2 million from Seminole County." The team would contribute $30M "toward construction and pay $675,000 a year for the next 25 years." The city would "convert the annual payments into $10 million that could be used upfront for construction" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/23). SI.com's Brian Straus noted Rawlins and Orlando City FC Investor Flavio Augusto da Silva also will be "on the hook for the MLS expansion fee, which is a reported" $70M. Orlando City FC has played at the Citrus Bowl, but with that stadium "slated for renovation, the club will require temporary digs next year" (SI.com, 10/22).
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT: In K.C., Charles Gooch notes MLS' next franchise candidates could "come from the South -- a region that's been under-represented in the league since" the Tampa Bay Mutiny folded in '02. Atlanta and a David Beckham-backed Miami group "are thought to be among the front-runners," but Minneapolis, Detroit and Sacramento also have "been rumored as potential targets." If Orlando joins N.Y. in '15, MLS "will have added 11 teams" since '04. That is "an impressive amount of growth for a league that once had the majority of its teams owned by two men, Lamar Hunt and Phil Anschutz" (K.C. STAR, 10/23). In Orlando, Paul Tenorio wrote MLS is "in a far different state than even a decade ago." Since contracting the last two Florida teams in '02, MLS "has rebounded and surged forward." Since '05, "10 new stadiums have been built or renovated for soccer." No longer is the league "home to retired stars and second-best American players." It boasts "two of the country's top-three stars" -- the Galaxy's Landon Donovan and the Sounders' Clint Dempsey -- "and international players still fully capable of competing in top leagues abroad" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 10/22).