Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Orlando City Stadium Talk with Phil Rawlins

There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of articles written about the potential of Orlando City Soccer Club earning an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer (MLS) within the next few years. The sticking point that is brought up time and time again with Orlando's chances, or any other city's for that mater, is the issue of building a soccer specific stadium (SSS).

Last month we posted an article about potential locations for a SSS for the team in downtown Orlando as part of the Creative Village. It was a follow-up to our article from last fall where we discussed the possibility of building a SSS on the campus of the University of Central Florida (UCF) in East Orlando.

If the stadium issue is the one unresolved point in Orlando's MLS future, we figured why not go straight to the source for an update? So we sat down with Orlando City's owner and president, Phil Rawlins, to get all the specifics on potential sites and a time table for putting a shovel in the ground and getting a stadium built.

The first question was a follow-up to some previous discussions we have had with Phil about converting the Citrus Bowl into a permanent SSS for the club. The team currently uses the facility for its home matches and with seating for close to 70,000 it has the potential to be used like CenturyLink Field in Seattle. According to him the Citrus Bowl doesn't meet MLS' criteria for a SSS and it could only be used as a temporary stadium while a new SSS was being built. On the topic of it being a temporary facility Phil stated that it was turn key, ready to go with very little notice as far as field size, seating, audio/video capabilities, etc for a temporary MLS facility. The bottom line is that the cost required to renovate the Citrus Bowl would be in line with the cost for a new, soccer-specific stadium elsewhere.

We next asked how Orlando City's revenue from using the city owned Citrus Bowl compared to the money brought in by the various football bowl games that are played there in the fall. Phil stated that the city and team have an excellent working relationship and realize the value of having a full time tenant at the facility. He made an excellent point in stating that prior to the team's arrival, this revenue stream wasn't available to the city. Since then the city has been able to use the additional revenue generated from the club to supplement maintenance and improvements at the Citrus Bowl. He couldn't give a specific dollar-to-dollar comparison of Orlando City to the Bowl Games as far as revenue because he didn't have the bowl game figures, but he did say they are given even input with Florida Citrus Sports and other tenants that rent the facility.

We then asked about specific locations, the first being the Creative Village highlighted in our May article and located on the former site of the Amway Arena. Phil said that discussions have taken place between the team and Creative Village Development LLC, but that the plans for the site were already fairly far along and did not include a SSS. He said he loves the location and wouldn't rule it out completely, but it doesn't look likely that a stadium would be built at that site.

Next we moved to the concept of building a SSS on the UCF campus similar to the joint-venture between the LA Galaxy and California State University at  Dominguez Hills with the Home Depot Center. He stated that they have not had any discussions with UCF or developers that have wanted a stadium on or near the campus, again didn't rule out the option, just no discussions on that matter so far.

So if those two locations are out of the mix, we asked Phil, what sites are you still considering? As expected he came right out and stated that he couldn't point to any specific locations because that would break the non-disclosure agreements that they have in place with the league, city, and county. He did say that they are looking at several locations with the goal still being close to downtown, however some larger sites away from the city center are also being looked at by the team. He went on to say that both the city and county have been very engaged in the search for a suitable SSS site and want to see the team succeed in this effort. Furthermore, the working relationship between the three groups has been nothing short of outstanding from his stand point and he hopes that continues for the long term.

We brought up the issue of cost and funding for a new SSS. The new stadiums for the Red Bulls and Sporting KC both cost in excess of $200M, however the Dynamo opened a beautiful 22,000 seat stadium in downtown Houston this year that cost $95M to build. Phil stated that in discussions with MLS, designers, and builders and based on current market conditions, a SSS meeting all the team and league requirements could be built for around $80-90M in Orlando. The team already has the number of luxury suites, club seating, and regular seats worked out; the total being around 18,000 with the possibility of expansion to 24,000 in the future. He went on to say that what was built in Houston and what is planned for San Jose are both great examples or beautiful, affordable, SSS that the league can be proud of for decades to come.

Lastly we talked time table, which has been a subject we have discussed many times before but wanted an update straight from the owner. According to Phil the goal is to gain membership into MLS in 2014, potentially playing one or two season at the Citrus Bowl and then moving into a SSS by the 2015 or 2016 season. When I asked how his goal was looking he laughed and said that things seem to be moving along as he had hoped thus far. Keep in mind, that if this holds true, and based off of previous MLS expansion announcements, Orlando could be announced as an expansion franchise as early as this fall if they were to start play in 2014 (food for thought).

So what does this all mean to Orlando City fans and followers of MLS in other parts of the country? Well between you and me (and anyone else who reads this blog), Phil exuded a conservative confidence in our interview and has always in any of our discussions with him. It's kind of like being the smartest person in the room, you know it, but you don't need to make a big deal about it. Phil knows that the pieces are there for MLS membership, he doesn't have to stand on the highest mountain (Space Mountain most likely) and shout at the community to support his team. He has built a full soccer franchise from the youth teams as young as 5 years of age right through the U-20, U-23, and professional teams. He has been in the business for a while, he isn't jumping into this blind with a bunch of money he made in hedge funds or selling a dot com start-up. He doesn't need to come right out and say that Orlando will get a team, because I think he already knows that. And when that time comes and with Mr. Rawlins leading the club, Orlando may get more than just another professional team, they may just get the model franchise for all of MLS to look up to in awe.

7 comments :

  1. Just because I enjoy the speculation, here are some locations that I think are obvious spots for an SSS...

    West Central:
    Between Washington / Terry / Central / Division. Very close to the new Amway, so parking could be shared. Revitalize the area. Close to Orange.

    Executive Airport:
    This one is a little weird and access is tough, but lots of space.
    Andes Ave north of 408.

    Festival Park:
    This one is a no-brainer. Especially if part of the executive airport could become parking.

    East Colonial:
    Bennett and Colonial (NW Corner). A patchwork of medium sized lots, which could be hard to acquire collectively. Access is not great, but could be sold as a way to re-vitalize the area around a wilting mall (parking).

    Ben White Raceway:
    Lee Road and Edgewater. A little outside the core downtown, but it's already owned by the city.

    John Young and Princeton:
    Probably too expensive to get the land since Walmart built on the corner, but there is plenty of space.

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  2. After talking to Phil yesterday and realizing that the Creative Village was out of the running (most likely), I immediately jumped to another downtown site that I have never mentioned but figured would be just as good. It's a large site to the east of Lynx Central Station and I believe it is privately owned at this time. The site is clear except for a few parking spaces and I believe the plan was for a mixed residental-commercial development. When you think of SunRail coming in the next few years, the bus terminal already there, and it's location on the north end of Orange Ave, this is my top site location until someone proves me wrong. I'll do some digging and let you know.

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  3. Part of the lot next to Lynx will actually become the Sun Rail station, So that's a great big "prolly not gonna happen there".

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  4. The west central is good location, especially since they have been trying to revitalize the parramore district and move all the hoods south of 408. Also the lot across from the courthouse by the lynx is a good location too, a little better maybe. Your right off Orange Ave and the northern part of Orange needs something. Theyve already had an idea for a SSS there before in 03' If you search google images "soccer stadium rendering orlando" the first pic is rendering of a stadium they wanted to put on that same location. Its good to see the City working with OCSC and realizing the potential this team has to make a huge impact on our community. One suggestion though, they should air commercials for OCSC on SunSports. All Florida sports fans watch it, and im sure advertisement cost isnt much.

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    1. I second Adtrueblue on the advertising - OCSC has got to do better with that. It is unbelievable the people who have no clue there is a professional team right here in Orlando. Of course the local papers putting them on the back sports page behind every other "sport" imaginable doesn't help either.

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  5. I think that the team is doing the right thing (for now) by under-selling and over-delivering. Let's be honest, USLPro is a minor league and Orlando is a town filled with minor league corpses far as the eye can see. It is easier for a skeptic to point to that history and to stand back a bit to see what will happen in the future..unless a friend, a public outing or the occasional commercial gets someone interested to come to a game. Hopefully, when an MLS entry is granted for Orlando City, that will be the time for the full court press. Now is the time to get the product right, get the fans lined up and excited...I think the game sells itself once you get inside the Citrus Bowl.

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  6. I believe the location you are referring too Practice Cone was once the planned site for the Ajax Orlando stadium.

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