Owls' Stadium Plan Revealed Site Picked If Eagles Don't Build

Posted: August 21, 1998

Major League Soccer wants a place to play in Philadelphia. Temple University doesn't have a football stadium of its own.

Sound like a natural fit? Apparently some Temple University and MLS executives think so.

MLS commissioner Douglas G. Logan told the Daily News the second-year outdoor league has been in ``discussion'' with Temple for the past year and is participating in a plan to bring a franchise to Philadelphia and a 32,000-seat football stadium to Temple's North Philadelphia campus.

Last football season, the Daily News reported that Temple and MLS were involved in talks with the Eagles as possible tenants for any football facility the Eagles might build.

Temple's official stance is that it still can see itself as a partner in an Eagles stadium, but is exploring other options because there is no telling when or if the Eagles will get a new stadium.

Logan says this new plan has advanced beyond the discussion stage.

``They're out there trying to raise the money,'' Logan said yesterday, referring to Temple officials. ``They have a plan and they have a site. I was there two weeks ago on a walk-through of the site. I'm optimistic about what I hear.

``The final exam on any plan is when the turnstiles start turning. But if everything goes right, it's been represented to me that the stadium could be ready by the year 2001.''

Reached yesterday at a soccer federation meeting in Hawaii, Logan said the university is deep in the planning stages of a football stadium that would accommodate 29,000 for soccer. That would allow the expanding league to bring a franchise here by the 2001 season.

Logan said he has not met directly with university president Peter Liacouras, but he has had meetings with members of the university's board of trustees and members of the athletic department.

Though university officials have apparently been trying to keep their intentions quiet, sources said that Temple fund-raisers have been approaching potential sources of funding for donations.

In a statement issued by Temple, spokesman George Ingram stated that the university is having discussion with MLS, but said that Liacouras favors partnering with the Eagles.

``The university is considering several options, including partnering with the Eagles. There's strong interest from Major League Soccer for a combination 32,000-seat, on-campus facility,'' the statement read.

``A university task force on the stadium issue, led by athletic director Dave O'Brien and chief financial officer Martin Dorph, that is studying all aspects met informally last week with the commissioner of MLS.

``Major hurdles would have to be cleared, only one of which is that president Liacouras has made it clear that no state or university operating funds may be used to build such a facility, and that if there is an on-campus facility it would receive no additional university operating subsidy.

``President Liacouras' present view'' the statement concluded, ``is that the most likely scenario for Temple in the Big East is as a partner and the exclusive college football tenant for an Eagles stadium.''

It is no secret that MLS has wanted to include Philadelphia in its expansion plans and that it has been exploring ways to locate a team here.

Logan has been in discussions with the Eagles as a possible participant in any new stadium plan. But because there is no known plan to build the Eagles a new facility, MLS has also talked with other major universities and potential partners. Logan did not say who the league was talking to beside the Eagles and Temple.

``We have been in conversations with others in Philadelphia, including the Eagles,'' he said. ``But our conversations with Temple are fairly advanced and indeed, if Temple goes forward with a stadium for both football and soccer, we would be very, very interested.''

Logan declined to discuss the specifics of the university's plan, but sources familiar with the plans gave the following details of what the university is thinking.

The stadium would cost between $40 million and $45 million to build, would have a grass field, and be large enough to accommodate a professional soccer team.

The university is attempting to raise start-up money from within the alumni and would require $20 million to $25 million to begin construction.

MLS would not participate in the funding or construction of the project, but would sign a long-term lease with Temple to rent the facility and bring an expansion team to the city.

The stadium would be located behind McGonigle Hall, between 15th and 16th streets and Montgomery Avenue, and extend not quite to Norris Street to the north.

Construction would require the removal of Amos playground, which includes a pool and a recreation center, and one of two artificial-turf fields Temple now uses. Sources say Temple might purchase the land across 16th Street that currently houses Engineering & Science High School, and relocate the Amos facility there.

Temple currently plays its home games at Veterans Stadium, mostly in front of crowds that number less than 5,000.

Having its own stadium would allow the program to schedule games more freely because it would not have to worry about conflicts with the Phillies, who also play Saturdays during the fall at Veterans Stadium.

For example, the Sept. 12 game against Akron is being played at Penn's Franklin Field, which also was the site of the Maryland game last year.

``I guess this all stems from the Big East letting all of its member institutions know about 18 months ago that there were certain criteria that had to be met,'' O'Brien said. ``One of those standards was control over our facility. In certain situations, we are displaced on Saturdays when the Phillies are in town.

``To date, that hasn't really been a tremendous issue from a television perspective, because our team has not been competitive. But as [first-year coach] Bobby Wallace improves the program, and more TV opportunities present themselves, this is going to become a major dilemma.

``What we had to do was begin to craft some solutions. Obviously, there is still a lack of clarity about the stadium issue for the Eagles and Phillies in Philadelphia. While we would love to be able to play in a new Ravens-type stadium [which will open Monday in Baltimore], and having Temple be the main tenant, there's no guarantee that kind of facility will be built, or when.

``In that environment, we have also begun to ask ourself, `Is there a possible way for us to solve our stadium dilemma on campus?' In that regard, we've obviously gone out and met with the MLS a number of times, to see whether a positive partnership could be created. The goal is to find a financial partner to make a stadium happen on campus, without using any state money.''

The Owls won only three games last year under former coach Ron Dickerson and have not won more than that since 1990. Wallace won three Division II national titles at North Alabama.

Plans to build the university's new basketball arena, The Apollo at Temple, were criticized in the early stages, but the new facility has been a success. The Owls averaged 7,964 fans in 13 home dates last season, an increase of 4,073 from 1996-97 in the smaller McGonigle Hall. That was the largest attendance increase in Division I.

The Apollo, though, was built with matching state funds.

``It's non-negotiable, for Temple's athletic program to supply a solution to the issue of controlling our facility,'' O'Brien said. ``We need a solution quickly. The attractiveness of the Eagles' deal is we could be playing in a state-of-the-art NFL facility. But not knowing the status, or being able to predict when or if an Eagles stadium will come into existence, requires us to do our due diligence and look at other options, including a pipe dream.''

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com or call our tip line at 215-854-5474.

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