Big hurdles for Chester soccer stadium plan

Posted: July 20, 2007

For at least three years, Major League Soccer has wanted to get a franchise into the Philadelphia region.

But the New-York-based league and local partners have so far fallen short of landing public subsidies - which reached nearly $100 million for an Illinois facility for the Chicago Fire - needed to build a stadium dedicated to soccer here.

And it's not even clear that the latest group of investors, led by Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman James Nevels, will be able to raise the estimated $50 million to $70 million in private money it would take to launch a franchise.

Delaware County officials and state lawmakers said this week that plans are in the works to put a professional soccer stadium in Chester.

The key to getting loans or selling municipal bonds to pay for sports venues is not a concentration of soccer fans, but a critical mass of deep-pocketed corporations that want to lease pricey luxury suites for years at a time.

"That market is pretty well saturated" in Philadelphia, Sam Katz, the former arena consultant and former mayoral candidate said today. Katz said he had no specific knowledge about efforts to bring Major League Soccer to the region.

Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wachovia Center - which were built with the help of pubic funding - already have a combined 368 luxury suites.

Dan Courtemanche, a spokesman for Major League Soccer, said all six of the newly-built MLS facilities have luxury boxes, stadium clubs and other amenities common in the latest generation of sports facilities.

The price tag on each of the the six soccer-only stadiums built so far has ranged from about $85 million to $125 million, he said, and most were built with a combination of public and private money.

Jeffrey Rotwitt, a senior partner with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel L.L.P. and president of the Philadelpha Kixx indoor soccer team, estimated that investors would have to raise $50 million to $70 million for the league's $30 million franchise fee, start-up costs, working capital and whatever else is not covered by public subsidies.

Rottwitt, who has been in separate talks with MLS about getting a franchise for Philadelphia, said one of the big challenges facing an "MLS stadium is that each team has only 15 home games a season, and therefore there is a need to generate profitable use of the stadium the other 350 days of the year. This is true especially in light of the many other competing and well-run venues in the Delaware Valley."

Those include the Wachovia Center for indoor concerts and Citizens Bank Park and the Tweeter Center for outdoor concerts.

Nevels did not return calls for comment today.

Chuck Ardo, a spokesperson for Gov. Rendell - who last month expressed his dissatisfaction with Nevels' work on the School Reform Commission - reiterated yesterday that the governor had only been involved in very general talks about bringing the MLS to the region.

Courtemanche would not confirm that Nevels is among the investors the league has been in talks with here, nor would he say if time was running out for the Nevels group. "We've been working with a potential investor group in Cleveland since 2003," he said.


Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

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