County forging ahead on $32 million renovations
CHARLOTTE – Mecklenburg County has come to terms with the Charlotte Independence about playing soccer games at American Legion Memorial Stadium starting in spring 2021.
The United Soccer League franchise has been playing home games at the Sportsplex at Matthews since June 2017, when the second phase of the project opened. But a move closer to Uptown Charlotte could give the pro soccer team more exposure and increased attendance.
County commissioners voted March 20 to move forward on $32 million renovations to Memorial Stadium, with commitments from the Independence, as well as Major League Lacrosse’s Charlotte Hounds franchise, to serve as anchor tenants.
The Independence and Hounds have agreed on a term sheet extending 10 years with two five-year renewals built in. They could plan up to 30 events, with no more than 17 weekends from March to October.
The Independence and Hounds will pay an annual fee of $185,000 per year and $8,800 per game (up to 30 games). The county would also get 15 percent revenue share (parking, concessions, naming rights, etc.), as well as $3 per ticket package.
“I’m excited about this deal,” Assistant County Manager Mark Foster said. “It’s a fair deal, but it fully recovers all of our incremental operating costs for the new stadium, plus it builds about $1.1 million in capital reserve costs over the next 10 years.”
The county will use artificial turf inside the stadium to decrease the downtime associated with repairing a grass field in between uses. This would allow the county more dates to book events.
The plan is to replace the turf every 10 years.
The county would maintain control over Memorial Stadium, but there’s a clause that prevents competing professional soccer and lacrosse teams from being booked.
“The other thing that was very important to the [Independence] was that the county could not terminate the lease for convenience just to bring in Major League Soccer without their approval,” Foster said. “I think that’s fair given what we’ve done the last year or so.”
Previous talks to partner with the Independence on a renovated Memorial Stadium stalled when the city and county entertained discussions over a potential Major League Soccer bid that never materialized.
The county could book high school and college soccer or lacrosse games at the stadium, as well as international exhibitions.
Most county commissioners expressed excitement in the deal. George Dunlap would like to see a CIAA football championship played there, while Vilma Leake hopes to see a battle of the bands event.
Matthew Ridenhour was the only commissioner voting against renovations despite recognizing the term sheet was attractive for all parties involved.
“I do like this, but at the same time, I’m the one that has to live with how I vote,” Ridenhour said. “I feel this dollar figure is a little too far for me to feel comfortable with at this time. “
While the Independence will no longer play games at the Sportsplex at Matthews, Foster said they’ll continue to practice there.
The Town of Matthews has such high hopes for the sportsplex. Leaders anticipate the area around it will become an upscale neighborhood with housing, shops and restaurants.