MLS Expansion Update: Election Day Impacts Both San Diego & Miami Expansion Bids

The Election Day ballots impact very important and significant policies which will affect every American. The impact of the referendum questions will shape reform of tax laws, allocate funding for infrastructure projects, and formulate training programs for jobs; among many other important initiatives.

The referendum vote will also impact sports in certain cities, especially in San Diego and Miami. The voters in those two respective cities will have a choice to make on allocation of tax payer money for land use for new stadiums for two potential Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchises.

The San Diego residents will have to decide what to do with the city owned land that currently is occupied by the football stadium once used by the Chargers in the Mission Valley area of the city. The team vacated the city and relocated to Los Angeles prior to the 2017 NFL season. The city has been paying for the land and maintenance on the aging stadium, now they have to determine the next use for that complex.

One proposal is for San Diego State University (SDSU) to use the land for a smaller football stadium that would have a secondary use as a soccer venue for an MLS team. The rest of the land would be used for an extension of the campus and part of it would be dubbed an “Innovation Zone” for different academic/research pursuits.

The second proposal is for Soccer City which would be primarily a soccer specific stadium with a secondary use as a college football facility for the SDSU team. The plan also calls for entertainment and retail development as well as a park facing the river. The plans are both similar and would both include a facility with multi-purpose use, but the difference is how each party plan to pay for the development.

Soccer City will be funded by private financing and will require no tax money outlay from the residents. The SDSU proposal will pay for the stadium and campus extension through public-private funds, donations from alumni/benefactors, and revenue generated from the gate from football games/events.

The extension of the campus, according to local media reports, is seen as a crucial element for the university at this point. The land available to achieve this needed expansion is limited, and the football team does need a place to play as well, but not the scale of the NFL stadium on the site.

The group of business and civic leaders backing the soccer team need a stadium or else the expansion bid has no hope of survival. I covered the referendum vote for the Chargers proposed new stadium in the downtown waterfront years ago (a plan that was voted down by residents) and that vote ultimately led to the team relocating to Los Angeles.

The voters of San Diego have been here before, and they can turn the fortunes of either the university or the soccer team very quickly in one direction or another. It is worth noting that if neither proposal gains 50% of the vote, then the proposal with the majority of the votes would be the winning proposal for the land.

The stakes are high, MLS prefers the soccer team to be the primary tenant for revenue stream control, and so even though both proposals allow for a facility to host soccer matches, if the Soccer City plan loses, MLS is unlikely to approve the bid.

Conversely, if the campus extension fails, then the university is back to the drawing board on where it can potentially put this new “Innovation Zone” in a rapidly shrinking area of available land that is scalable for such usage.

The fact that the people have the determining factor here, rather than a group of elitists and politicians is, in my view, an excellent way to make such a far-reaching civic decision. It is completely American in the way that it was conceived and San Diego deserves credit for multiple times placing the residents above their own personal gain.

In Miami, the expansion of MLS to that very important market is already approved, but the stadium site is elusive. I have reported on this situation in the past, and lead investor and former international soccer superstar, David Beckham and his partners in this endeavor have struck out on six potential sites in the past few years.

The Freedom Park proposal, as I covered previously on this site, is a $1 billion stadium and entertainment complex proposed by Beckham and his well-financed partners on a site that is currently a public golf course. The voters must decide whether to allow the group to bypass the competitive bidding process to negotiate a lease with the City of Miami directly.

Those with knowledge of the deal report that it is a 99 year lease with the city. The issue with the land is that it was once used as a waste treatment facility with an incinerator known as “Old Smoky” and to tear up the golf course and disrupt the land to build a stadium and multiple structures on the property would create an environmental cleanup that would be very costly.

The mitigating factor is that the private investors are going to pay for all the construction and all of the costs of developing the site. The proposal calls for no tax payer contribution.

The referendum needs to pass for Miami to be able to move forward with the stadium plans to meet the 2020 entry into MLS. The way forward if the vote goes against them is unclear, and could create a tremendous stumbling block to a expansion bid that has been riddled with problems from the start.

Election Day will have implications that are far-reaching for residents in cities and towns across America. In the case of San Diego and Miami, two major markets will have referendum votes that will shape sports and entertainment in those two respective cities for decades into the future.

(some background courtesy of MLS.com, Miami Herald, Sports Illustrated, and NBC 7 San Diego)

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