CHARLOTTE – County commissioners have directed staff to find out if there’s interest in the Charlotte Independence entering an agreement to help renovate and play at Memorial Stadium.
An agreement was nearly reached last year with Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the United Soccer League team that would split the cost of renovating the stadium. But that was put on the backburner as talks ignited for a Major League Soccer bid led by Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith.
The Independence wound up playing the first of 12 home games at Sportsplex Matthews, beginning June 17. The games saw crowds, but the team still reported a $1.5 million operating loss, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.
Commissioner Jim Puckett initiated discussion among colleagues Nov. 8, calling for Charlotte Independence talks to resume – with or without the possibility of the city being involved.
“We spent a year reaching for the stars as far as soccer goes,” Puckett said of entertaining the MLS bid. “We didn’t make that. And I don’t want us to miss an opportunity. I think the window is closing on the opportunity to partner with some folks and revitalize Memorial Stadium.”
Multiple commissioners stated their priority was renovating Memorial Stadium, an aging building meant to honor veterans and fondly remembered for hosting events like the Shrine Bowl and battle of the bands.
“I don’t philosophically have an issue with whether it’s major or minor (league soccer),” said Commissioner Bill James, who represents Matthews on the board. “My issue is that I believe that government should only invest a certain amount of money and we have to have a facility we mostly control.”
James didn’t like the idea of turning the stadium over to the MLS team.
Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said he attended the MLS4CLT kickoff event July 18 at First Ward Park, but he doesn’t believe in taxpayer-subsidized stadiums.
Commissioner Trevor Fuller would like to see multiple options from county staff about funding renovations.
Matthews Sportsplex plans to add more seating
Sportsplex Matthews is anticipated to add enough seating to accommodate 4,124 people thanks to a $1 million state grant and $400,000 each from Matthews and Mecklenburg County.
The county approved a $954,000 contract with JD Goodrum Company on Nov. 8 to serve as general contractor for the third phase of the park’s development, which includes additional seating.
“The reason we didn’t go to 4,000 or 5,000 seats when we did the second phase, we didn’t have that money,” said Jim Garges, the county’s outgoing parks and recreation director. “We put in as many seats we could with the money we had.”
Sportsplex Matthews has received a lot of awareness by virtue of being the home field for the Charlotte Independence, but the fields also allow for lacrosse, football and rugby games.
Ridenhour was concerned about the county and state investing in seating if the Charlotte Independence were to agree to terms with the county about playing in Memorial Stadium.
Garges assured him the seats were necessary.
“Matthews wants these seats,” Garges said. “Whether Independence plays another game there or not, as far as we’re concerned with the stadium, that doesn’t make any difference in terms of the need to complete this phase of the project.”