Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Orlando City Stadium

Orlando's Proposed Creative Village
(Courtesy of Creative Village Development, LLC)
Every now and then we like to crack open our mailbag here at "The Scoring Third" and answer some questions from our millions and millions of loyal followers (numbers are estimates and bad ones at that). Zach Gamble wrote earlier this week asking if we could take a look at potential Soccer Specific Stadium (SSS) locations for Orlando City in the future.

In our article "Is it time for MLS in Orlando" last September we wrote about the steps Orlando City needed to take to increase its position for the next MLS expansion franchise; the points included fan support, location, ownership and stadium. While we talked about a number of locations around Orlando, eventually settling on a spot out by UCF, a lot has changed with the team and MLS since then and it's worth revisiting. Just like we did for our article on MLS NY2 Stadium location, we figured it was time to give Orlando the same treatment and find a dowtown location for Orlando City's Stadium.


The fate of Orlando City's stadium future should no longer be tied to the Citrus Bowl. While the team's stock has been rising both on and off the field with their contributions to the community, the Citrus Bowl is in a death spiral, one which it may not be able to pull out of anytime soon. With just one year left on its two college football bowl contracts, and Orange County commissioner Teresa Jacobs stating that she wants more funds for the convention center renovation, there is a very real possibility that the stadium will be "bowl-less" in the next few years. Orlando City are the only full time professional tenants of the Citrus Bowl, yet the focus of the facility remains college football bowl games.

For Orlando City to make the jump to Major League Soccer they will have to leave the Citrus Bowl for another downtown location. While many could argue that the Citrus Bowl and surrounding city owned properties are the best location, that's simply not the case. No there is really only one location downtown for a new soccer specific stadium and that is in the proposed Creative Village at the site of the old Amway Arena. Before I get into the  stadium specifics, I'll explain why the Citrus Bowl location doesn't work for a new stadium.

Having lived in Orlando when the billion dollar, three facility construction project was announced back in 2007 it was status quo for the City. The municipalities of Central Florida had seen property values double or even triple in some areas leading to their coffers seeing equal gains. The three project package was meant to give the downtown an identity, make it its own reason to come to Orlando. $487M later and the Amway Center was completed on mostly public dollars, only $57M coming from the Magic owners. The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center is struggling but construction is underway at a final cost in excess of $250M with mostly private dollars. The Citrus Bowl was always going to be the last facility renovated, but now the funds don't exist and furthermore, the city can't borrow the money even if they had future funding streams to pay off the loans. If the Citrus Bowl loses its bowl games or is downgraded to lower level bowl games, there is a chance Florida Citrus Sports could dissolve because they will no longer be making a profit. In turn, there has been talk from a private group of UCF supporters about Bright House Networks Stadium on the UCF Campus hosting a bowl game in the next few seasons. While George O'Leary, UCF's head coach, would love to keep the stadium all to himself, the bottom line is that the rich history of bowl games in Orlando could end if UCF doesn't step in. With all of this in mind, the Citrus Bowl, college bowl games, and funding all create a very hostile environment, one that Orlando City can avoid by choosing a different location.

The proposed Creative Village is a mixed-use project located on 68-acres of city-owned land surrounding the former Amway Center just west of Interstate 4. Previously known as the Centroplex for its multiple entertainment venues (sound familiar?) with the Amway Center and Bob Carr Arts Center, the area was built with lots of surface level parking, easy access to the highway system, and just a five minute walk to Orange Avenue and the downtown area. Since the arena was demolished in March and is in the process of being cleaned up, this is one of the few areas in all of greater Orlando where development is actually happening in the current economy. Once the clean-up is complete the construction focus will shift to infrastructure and roadways. Funds have already been committed by the federal government through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program to reconstruct all the surface streets on the site for the new development.

The overall plan for the Creative Village is to create a technology focused area for young adults, businesses, schools, and more on the site. Full Sail University, currently located in East Orlando, has been mentioned numerous times as a primary tenant for the project if the school was willing to relocate. Although a stadium is not part of the current plans, the space exists and the surrounding mixed-use buildings and walking distance to downtown make it the ideal location for Orlando City Stadium. In addition, the core demographic for soccer, males aged 18-40, is also a key demographic for the video game and technology industry.

The site might actually be the "best of both worlds" for a soccer specific stadium. While recent expansion teams like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and Montreal have renovated existing downtown facilities and had great success, one new stadium is a big draw but nowhere near downtown; Kansas City. Their new $200M Livestong Sporting Park is part of Village West which is dubbed as the biggest tourist destination in Kansas and understandably so. In addition to the stadium the site is home to Kansas Motor Speedway, Hollywood Casino, Legends Mall and tons of other mixed use developments. While the Creative Village is a much smaller plot of land, the inclusion of a stadium with vacant land around it allows for development that could enhance the stadium experience, not something that the previously mentioned expansion cities could do with their sites.

Click to Enlarge - Modified Site Plan with Stadium
(Courtesy of Creative Village Development LLC)
So where in the creative village would the stadium be located? While the plan currently has this spot labeled as "TBD/Hotel" it seems to be the only place on the site where a stadium could fit without compromising existing buildings or overall plans for the site. Oriented north-south on the property, the stadium would be opened on the north end to views of Lake Dot. With canopy coverage on the other three sides of the stadium. The sun traveling from east to west across the southern sky will have less of an impact on fans during day games. Shade will be key to playing outside in Florida and will double as rain protection for fans in the evening during the daily pop-up storms.

An alternative, and equally valued portion of the site, would be on the east side of the campus once the Bob Carr is demolished. The stadium in this location would have to be oriented east-west with the open end on the east side, that way concert stages would be facing away from Interstate 4. This location is closer to Orange Avenue and just one block from the Lynx Central Station and proposed Sunrail Station. In addition, the existing Centroplex parking is adjacent to the site and ready for use.

Regardless of the specific location in the Creative Village, this is the only site (in my opinion) for Orlando City's future stadium in a downtown location. The Citrus Bowl, without further improvements, would meet MLS' minimum requirements for a temporary facility as long as plans were in the works for a new downtown soccer specific stadium.

7 comments :

  1. Here is a crazy thought (but brainstorming is good for that...). Since the Citrus Bowl is about to lose its contract and a new stadium would be needed to recover them, would it be possible to remove the upper level seating at the Citrus Bowl and reconfigure it into a SSS? If the upper seating was demolished, replacement seating for the lower bowl and a revamp of the concessions areas I would think that a revamped Citrus Bowl would be a fine SSS. Parking lots would be the same and there would be zero land acquisition costs. In addition, since it is still the Citrus Bowl it may still be eligible for the same proposed funding and with a permanent tenant there may be more encouragement towards making this happen. Finally, as a historic facility, there might be some Federal grants available towards building the Citrus Bowl for the next 30 years.

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    1. You do know that the Citrus Bowl is not just used for Orlando City? It also hosts the Capitol One Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl.

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  2. Daniel - Not a crazy thought at all, actually it is something we have looked into recently. While on the surface that makes perfect sense, in actuality, the cost of renovating the Citrus Bowl as you've discussed would likely exceed the cost of a new stadium on the CV site. Unlike Red Bull Arena and Livestrong Sporting Park that both cost $200M to build, Houston's new BBVA Compass Stadium cost just $95M for a state-of-the-art 22,000 seat stadium. The money making component for all of these stadiums are the luxury suites and the Citrus Bowl is lacking in this area big time. The boxes at the Citrus Bowl are small with low ceilings and all inside seating. The physical constraints of the lower bowl and and support structure mean new luxury suites would have to be built completely, renovation is not really an option.

    The bottom line is that the Citrus Bowl will also be thought of as a football facility and that is not want Orlando City or MLS want. Yes it was a great venue for the 1994 World Cup and several international friendlies since, it is still a football stadium. OCSC can do better by forming their own identity with their own facility.

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  3. The worst thing about the Citrus Bowl and why Orlando City needs to get the hell out of their is that their staff treat Orlando City fans like crap. I've heard from the front office that the Citrus Bowl has been accomodating to them, but the way they treat fans coming to the games could not be much worse. Changing rules about bringing in sealed bottled water to games in 80-100° F weather, harassment of young children being kids, parking staff that refuse to open up parking spots near the field even though they are completely empty, etc.

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  4. PS - totally agree with @Practice Cone. Downtown creative village would be much better than the Citrus Bowl. The cost of fixing that facility would be way too much. Additionally, the idea of being over near UCF sounds appealing, but that location is much to far way to draw people from the Winter Garden/Dr. Phillips area - to maximize attendance the location needs to stay near downtown (just look at the Rowdies attendance after the move from to St. Petersburg). OCSC must avoid any decisions that would create barriers to attendance.

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  5. have you ever thought of emailing or printing and sending as a letter to Mayor Dyer??

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  6. Rachel - The thought never crossed my mind honestly because Orlando City, Phil Rawlins, and the rest of the backers involved are already in talks with the city and county about a new stadium. I am hoping to have some comments from Phil on the stadium issue shortly, just haven't had time to do the interview yet.

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