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SUBSCRIBER CONTENT: Aug 31, 2012, 6:00am EDT

Orlando City Lions may score MLS dream with stadium

photo | Orlando City Soccer Club • Photo Enhancement | Cheryl Bence

By 2014, Orlando City Lions players like forward Jean Alexandre, No. 19, may play in a new stadium in Major League Soccer. 

Reporter- Orlando Business Journal
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Wash your purple Orlando City Lions jersey and shine your vuvuzela, because the local soccer team is one step closer to going to the majors.

Orlando City Soccer President Phil Rawlins told Orlando Business Journal the sophomore team could get the Major League Soccer thumbs-up as early as fall 2013 and be ready to play in the league by 2014 or 2015.

So, exactly what it will take for that to happen? Rawlins said the league has asked the team to explore the possibility of building a 22,000-seat soccer-specific stadium. “They didn’t say we had to have a stadium built before we could join, but they at least would like a plan that it’s happening.”

Most Major League Soccer stadiums cost about $100 million, hold 20,000 fans and are on 30 acres with parking.

Rawlins said the team plans to find some land and start design work soon so it has something to show the league by next summer. “We are looking in Orlando and Orange County, but we want to stay close to the core center of Orlando.”

Colliers International Central Florida land broker Trevor Hall said a large piece of land may be available in north Orange County or Osceola County, “but in the downtown Orlando area, it would be very limited.”

Hall said the land could cost about $175,000 an acre or $5.3 million total for a 30-acre parcel.

Funding for the project may come from a combination of public and private sources, Rawlins said. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said it’s too early to speculate on how the city could help the stadium financially.

And there’s the rub. When it comes to building a new stadium, the team may run into funding problem, said Rich Bradley, a sports expert and chief operating officer with Shoppers’ Critique International, a Longwood-based consumer intelligence firm.

That’s because there is no government piggybank the team can tap into due to millions of dollars of public money already tied up in Orlando’s Amway Center, the downtown performing arts center now under construction and the planned Citrus Bowl renovations.

However, “Orlando has good demographics for soccer and has a solid presence in soccer participation, which is important to MLS,” said Bradley.

And Dyer, a big political supporter of the team, has been on several trips with the team to tour other facilities and chat about the opportunity for the team’s upgrade to MLS. Dyer and the team this summer visited the new BBVA Compass Stadium — home of the MLS’ Houston Dynamo — which cost $95 million, seats 22,039 and opened in May after 15 months of construction.

Major League Soccer hasn’t guaranteed Orlando as a future market, but spokesman Dan Courtemanche said Central Florida is creating a large blip on MLS’ radar. “Our discussions with Phil Rawlins and Orlando City have been positive and we continue to monitor the market as a potential location for a future MLS expansion team.”

Courtemanche said the 19-team league is looking to create a 20th team in metro New York at some point, and he had positive words for Orlando City’s prospects. “Adding a club in the southeastern region of the United States would be beneficial to our league’s growth. We look for strong ownership, an appropriate facility controlled by that ownership group, and a market with a tradition of supporting soccer. A soccer-specific stadium in Orlando certainly would be a positive for future MLS expansion in Central Florida.”

What this means to you:

• Sports franchises are economic development tools.

• A major league team attracts more fans and generates sales for area businesses.

• Construction work and new jobs

Covers tourism, hospitality and sports business


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