It's no secret that Orlando City is trying to become the next expansion franchise in Major League Soccer. But what might be a surprise is just how close the team might be to announcing plans for a new soccer-specific stadium in Orlando.
While recent reports out of New York City have Mayor Bloomberg and MLS commissioner Don Garber "very close" to completing a deal to build a new $300M stadium in Flushing Meadows, Orlando City's front office has been quietly working with MLS, Orlando's Mayor, Orange County's Mayor, and private financers to finalize a plan of their own.
Sunday evening, the Orlando City staff were in Houston to visit BBVA Compass Stadium and meet with Dynamo officials to discuss their team structure and stadium plan. The team posted pictures of their trip on Facebook and Twitter throughout the evening causing supporter groups to go nuts over the possibilities. I realized something was up when my mailbox start filling with emails with various names like "Orlando Stadium" and "MLS Stadium", so I sat down and started working my sources to get you the latest information, some of which even surprised me.
First, the trip to Houston was planned well in advance and involved most of the top officials from both Orlando and Houston's front offices. As we've mentioned countless times before, the Dynamo's new stadium was built at a total cost of $95M and is considered the ideal model for a new stadium in Orlando. However the Houston trip was just the start. I confirmed with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's office that he will be accompanying team officials to Kansas City from August 26th-28th to meet with Sporting KC officials as well as MLS executives. While the Mayor's nor Orlando City's offices would confirm the specifics of the meeting, my understanding is that it will be a sit down presentation with MLS to go over stadium specifics in Orlando.
Next, it is my understanding that MLS has had regular monthly teleconferences with Orlando City's front office regarding the stadium issue. This is not unique to Orlando, several other teams including interested parties in New York City, Minnesota, and Las Vegas have been given the same luxury. The unique aspect is that these meetings have become more regular and involving higher level staff with MLS, up to and including MLS president Mark Abbott. While I couldn't confirm that Abbott would be in Kansas City during the team's trip at the end of the month, the assumption (and it's just that) is he will be there as-is typical for presentations of this nature.
Continuing on, it is my understanding that discussions on a specific stadium location in Orlando are in the final stages with it being a difference between two potential sites, but in different areas. If you remember back to our last article with Orlando City president Phil Rawlins he mentioned how he had been in regular discussions with Orlando's Mayor Dyer as well as Orange County's Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Word is both Mayors are pushing for sites most advantageous to their respective focus areas; Dyer is pushing for downtown while Jacobs is pushing for the convention center area. The specific sites are perhaps the most "tight-lipped" part of the entire stadium discussion, for obvious reasons, but this is what I have been able to gather.
|Proposed Site by Convention Center|
(Courtesy of Orange County Appraiser)
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The site preferred site by Mayor Jacobs is a 29 acre county-owned site adjacent to the Orange County Convention Center on the south end of International Drive. The site was most recently tied to a bid by local business man, Armando Gutierrez Jr., to build a 5,000 seat baseball stadium to lure the New York Yankees minor league team away from Florida. Jacobs turned down the proposal last July stating, in more or less, that it was a bad deal for the county. One point she offered during the hearing was that the stadium would be too small to benefit the convention center as a potential "add-on" venue. It appears that the same parcel is the one that Jacobs is focused on drawing Orlando City into using for their stadium. The site is at the intersection of Interstate 4 and State Road 528 which would offer plenty of accessibility, if it weren't for all those tourists in their rental cars. The site is bordered by SR528 to the North, I-Drive to the west, SeaWorld's Aquatica to the south, and a residential community to the east. It is my understanding that the county would donate the land to the team for the stadium with an agreement for mutual use of the facility, a combination of soccer matches, concerts, and convention events.
|Proposed Site by Citrus Bowl|
(Courtesy of Orange County Appraiser)
- Click to Enlarge -
While we highlighted a potential, privately owned 6 acre site adjacent to the Lynx Central Terminal downtown, it appears the site discussion has shifted further to the west. While the City donated prime real estate to at the intersection of Interstate 4 and State Road 408 for the new Amway Center, the downtown site seems to be focused on city-owned land around the Citrus Bowl. More specifically it's the 10 acre site at 429 South Rio Grande Avenue immediately to the east of the Citrus Bowl. The site is currently a parking area for the stadium, ironically used by Orlando City supporters for their pre-game activities. The site would be bordered to the north by South Street and would require Colyer Street to be eliminated through the middle of the property. The idea is to put another "anchor" at that end of Church Street to help push forward the city's plans to grow downtown westward through Paramore, whether people want to or not. While not as close to downtown as fans would have hoped, the site does offer easy access from around downtown along with experience in hosting big sporting events. The deal for the team would be similar to the convention center site, the city would donate the site but likely without any mutual usage agreement.
Lastly, the information I could gather is pointing towards the team likely making a public announcement on the stadium plan in the October/November time frame. While working out the site location and financing are very big pieces to the schedule that cannot be ignored, Rawlins has told us previously that his goal is to gain membership in MLS for the start of the 2014 season. With a building schedule of 16-18 months similar to that of Houston's new stadium, if a shovel went in the ground this winter the stadium would be ready sometime early into the 2014 season. Although 2015 is probably more realistic, the goal of getting the stadium plan on the table for MLS to digest is important and will likely happen soon.
Hopefully this "unofficial" stadium update provides supporters and people from Central Florida with some insight in the process and some knowledge that team and local officials are working hard to bring top-level professional soccer to the area. In the meantime, Orlando City starts their push towards repeating as USLPRO Champions with their semifinal playoff match on Friday August 31st at the Citrus Bowl. While you can't put a shovel in the ground and start building a new stadium on your own, continued support for the team only helps the cause so get out their and be a part of history.