North Carolina FC raises MLS bid with stadium plan

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North Carolina FC Image: North Carolina FC / Gensler

North Carolina FC have ramped up their bid for a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise by unveiling plans for a US$1.9 billion stadium site in downtown Raleigh.

Steve Malik, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship club’s owner and chairman, told WRAL TechWire he is partnering with local developer John Kane on the project, which includes a new 20,000-seater multi-use stadium and other entertainment offerings.

“Having an urban stadium with great highway access and with entertainment options surrounding it will strengthen our bid,” said Malik, speaking to WRAL TechWire. “At the same time, this plan is not just about soccer. We are planning 75 other major events and hundreds of smaller events that will activate the development year round.”

North Carolina FC said the district would boost tourism through additional visitors to Raleigh and Wake County, while also creating jobs and revitalising an underused area of downtown Raleigh. The district would be known as Downtown South.

Downtown South would sit on approximately 55 acres of land at downtown Raleigh’s southern edge at the intersection of South Saunders Street and Interstate 40. As well as the 20,000-seat, open-air stadium, the plans feature more than $1.9bn in private development through street-level retail, office space and housing.

The stadium would cost $180m and also host North Carolina’s women’s professional soccer team, North Carolina Courage. It would also stage marquee events such as concerts, festivals, graduations, trade shows and championship-level sporting events.

“This project holds tremendous promise for the City of Raleigh. It’s unlike anything I’ve worked on in my career. To be part of something that would enhance the lifestyle and overall appeal of our city while strengthening the local economy in such a meaningful way is powerful. I’m hopeful that the Raleigh City Council and Board of County Commissioners will enable this transformational project to become a reality,” KRC chief executive John Kane said.

The district would be privately funded but the group has asked Wake County for $13m per year in Interlocal Funds to be awarded for debt service and maintenance of the stadium.

Construction work is expected to begin in early 2020, with North Carolina having targeted 2023 for the completion of the first phase of the development, including the stadium.

MLS revised its expansion plans earlier this year, amending its previous goal of 28 teams to 30.

Sacramento and St Louis are expected to claim the next two expansion slots for an increased fee of US$200 million, adding to franchises in Miami, Nashville and Austin, all of which are joining the league in the coming years.

As a result, North Carolina FC will likely be competing for the final expansion slot with the likes of Las Vegas, which recently announced a new stadium proposal. MLS is yet to decide the expansion fee and timetable for the 30th team.

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