Elk Grove council votes to consider land for soccer complex

Published: Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 - 3:51 pm

With local youth soccer players and coaches in attendance, the Elk Grove City Council voted Wednesday night to explore obtaining up to 120 acres of land for a soccer complex, a first step in pursuing a professional soccer team, according to Mayor Gary Davis.

Discussion of the economic impact of professional soccer in Elk Grove was the last item on the council's agenda, but it was moved up after dozens of youths wearing blue and orange jerseys filed into the chamber, filling the audience seats and standing around the perimeter of the room.

Economic Development Coordinator Heather Neff presented a fiscal impact study showing a professional soccer stadium could leave the city budget in a $5 million deficit, depending on financing options.

"That's the gap we have to fill to keep it revenue neutral," said City Manager Laura Gill, who recommended the council continue negotiating with Northern California Soccer, an ownership group led by former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Sacramento sports attorney Richard Hyde.

Three people spoke against the costs of a soccer facility during public comment, but players and coaches wearing jerseys of the FC Elk Grove youth soccer program rewarded each speaker supporting the project with applause.

Trent Slagle, a 14-year-old Katherine L. Albiani Middle School student, addressed the council wearing his No. 22 jersey.

"Having a team here would be one of the greatest things to ever happen in my life," he said, choking back tears to an ovation.

Núñez and Hyde addressed the council, speaking of the city's reputation as a "hotbed for soccer activity" and promising a transparent process in pursuing a professional team.

Elk Grove lawmakers expressed caution in their vote to move forward on considering a soccer facility project that could include a $100 million arena, according to a feasibility report.

"If we cannot get to a sum zero, it's not something I will support," said Vice Mayor Steven Detrick, who said he coached soccer in Elk Grove.

Elk Grove's plans for a Major League Soccer franchise put the city in competition with Sacramento, which is also in the market for a big-league soccer team.

In December, Sacramento was awarded a franchise from the third-tier United Soccer League that is expected to begin playing at Sacramento City College next year. MLS teams in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and Montreal all started as USL franchises.

Elk Grove signed a four-year negotiating agreement with Northern California Soccer for the development of a major league facility in 2011.

The city also hired Conventions, Sports & Leisure International to conduct a feasibility study in October that reported a soccer stadium could generate $15 million in spending in the area during its first year of operation.

Elk Grove is considering three sizes of soccer stadiums: MLS-quality stadiums seating 15,000 or 18,000 people costing $80 million or $100 million respectively, or a minor league arena seating 8,000 and costing about $40 million.

The report estimates acquiring an MLS team could cost $50 million. A second-tier North American Soccer League team would come with a $3 million price tag, according to the report.

A Planning Commission report recommends a 120-acre site with adjacent fields that could be used for tournaments and recreation leagues.

The facility, planned southwest of Whitelock Parkway and Highway 99, would be near the partially-built Elk Grove Promenade mall that ceased construction in 2008.

Davis said a professional soccer stadium could bring interest back to the mall, which is seeking lease agreements.

Call The Bee's Dan Hill, (916) 321-1067.

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