Triangle soccer fans got to see the stadium plan they've been waiting for.
Steve Malik, owner of the men's minor league soccer franchise North Carolina F.C. and driving force behind a bid to join Major League Soccer, unveiled the $150 million proposed stadium. The preferred site would put the 20,000-plus seat stadium in the north part of downtown Raleigh, in the Seaboard Station area which houses outdated office space and mostly empty parking spaces.
Indeed, it's one of the few remaining under-developed sites in Raleigh's increasingly vibrant downtown.
Malik had shown the proposal to MLS commissioners as part of its expansion franchise application, but he had kept it out of public view until now. Stadium development and community buy-in are not the only criteria looked at by MLS, but they are big factors. On Tuesday evening, soccer fans rallied around Malik and NCFC to show visiting MLS executives about their excitement for the sport.
Malik is the driving force behind the MLS expansion application and stadium project, but he's far from alone. John Kane, one of the Triangle's biggest real estate developers, has signed on as well. The larger stadium project would include 750,000 square feet of office space, 1,200 multi-family residential units, 100,000 square feet of retail space and 300 hotel rooms. In its entirety, the full project would come to $750 million of development on 13 acres.
A study by consultant Economic Leadership estimated the project would bring $262 million of annual economic activity to the state, including $181 million and 700 jobs to downtown Raleigh.
The state currently owns the land, though state government leaders acknowledge the land is underutilized. In addition, the state has been moving government workers out of downtown Raleigh, and has plans to continue decreasing its downtown footprint. Discussions about a lease deal are ongoing, but investment on this scale could give Malik and Kane leverage to negotiate a favorable lease deal with the state.
"MLS is looking for urban facilities that spur development, that are great for the sport and that are multi-purpose. And so we've checked boxes there," said NCFC President Curt Johnson. "This puts a clear vision in front of the community as to what we are talking about, and the significance of the project."
Malik also owns the Courage of the National Women's Soccer League, the top professional women's league. in the country. Both the Courage and NCFC currently play at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary and would likely continue to use that facility as training grounds.
In addition to soccer, Malik was candid about needing to find other uses for a 20,000 seat open-air venue. After all, soccer games would account for only about 30 event days per year.
“Having an outdoor venue with a roof on it that we can bring 20,000-plus people downtown ... there are a lot of opportunities for improved entertainment options,” Malik said. “It'll help take us to the next level in terms of a metro area, and it makes a lot of sense.”
A dozen cities are vying for a spot in the MLS, which will announce two expansion franchises later this year. Ever the confident optimist, Malik said he has no doubts Raleigh will win a bid.
"We've got a great chance. I wouldn't be stepping on the field if I didn't think we could win," he said.