Sacramento Republic FC took two steps in its campaign to join the ranks of Major League Soccer on Tuesday, securing political support for a new $226 million stadium project in the downtown railyard and unveiling new architectural drawings of a stadium designed to be the “most intense and intimidating” home turf in the nation.
The City Council voted 8-0 to approve a nonbinding term sheet for the project that outlines high-level details of the facility’s construction. The city is not being asked to provide any direct subsidy to the construction budget, but city staff will help usher the project through the development process.
The city will spend up to $100,000 on stadium consultants and could be asked by Republic FC to split revenue from a parking facility on city land that may be built near the stadium. The term sheet credits public agencies with already allocating $46 million for infrastructure improvements in the railyard.
With MLS team owners meeting Saturday during the league’s annual championship match weekend, the council’s vote was seen by city officials as a pivotal step as other cities competing with Sacramento struggle to finalize their own stadium plans. Team officials with Republic FC are expected to attend this weekend’s MLS Cup in Columbus, Ohio, although a decision on the league’s future expansion is not expected until next year.
“We’ve accomplished all that they’ve asked us to accomplish,” Republic FC President Warren Smith said.
Earlier Tuesday, Republic FC and architecture firm HNTB released new drawings of a stadium on 16 vacant acres in Sacramento’s downtown railyard.
Inspired by stadiums in Europe, South America and the United States, the drawings show a 25,000-seat stadium with a fully enclosed bowl to trap fan noise, a steep grade for seats aimed at providing an intimate fan experience and an exterior design inspired by the star on Republic FC’s team crest.
“I think you see something that is iconic, something that is new age,” Republic FC managing partner Kevin Nagle said.
The renderings were released on a new website – BuiltforSacramento.com – designed to promote Sacramento’s expansion effort.
The stadium could open by March 2018, but will only be built if Sacramento secures an expansion spot in MLS. An environmental review of the railyard development, including a soccer stadium and large hospital complex, is expected to be completed next summer. Team officials said they could break ground on the stadium in September 2016. Nagle has said he and his investment partners expect to pay for two-thirds of the $180 million construction budget with equity and finance the rest.
MLS has awarded 24 franchises but is considering expanding beyond that number. Questions also remain about the viability of stadium plans in Miami, which has been given one of the last expansion spots. League Commissioner Don Garber told CNBC on Tuesday that Miami could “in theory” be the 24th team to join the league, but that “right now, they don’t have (a stadium) plan finalized.”
Garber also told Sports Illustrated on Tuesday that he has “enormous respect for the Republic and their owners and everything they’ve done and the municipal support they have.” He added, “I hope we can work together to find a way that they are in MLS.”
Sacramento’s stadium plans, meanwhile, continue to move forward. The City Council chambers were packed with Republic FC fans. No one in the audience stood when Councilman Allen Warren asked if there were any opponents in the room.
Councilman Jeff Harris, who represents the railyard, called the project an “amazing opportunity.”
“There’s absolutely no downside to passing this term sheet,” he said.
Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city, said the stadium would help spark the development of the 240-acre railyard that has stood mostly vacant for years. “We need to have an anchor like Major League Soccer and Sac Republic in this railyard,” he said, wearing a Republic FC scarf designed by local artist David Garibaldi.
Nagle has spent nearly $2 million on the project already, Smith said. Under the term sheet, Republic FC would also cover construction cost overruns, as well as handle the stadium design, maintenance and operation. It also would reimburse the city for police and traffic control at stadium events.
Republic FC officials, HNTB executives and representatives of the stadium project manager, Legends, toured MLS stadiums around the country and examined facilities around the globe in coming up with their design plans. Nearly 3,500 fans completed an online survey of stadium design ideas.
The stadium blueprint borrows an element found often in English stadiums – distinct “neighborhoods” for fans inside the stadium. The team’s supporter group – Tower Bridge Battalion – would occupy the north side, while the east side of the stadium is designed like an uninterrupted wall of stands, much like the enormous “Yellow Wall” found inside the Westfalenstadion of Germany’s professional Bundesliga soccer league.
The stands would be placed at the steepest grade allowed by Major League Soccer, an element drawn up to create a loud and intimate fan experience. A Republic FC news release said it “will create the most intense and intimidating match experience in MLS – a place Republic FC players love to play and other teams dread to visit.” Most MLS stadiums do not have enclosed bowls.
“When you have fans 360 degrees around the stadium with a canopy, that’s a completely different experience,” said Gerardo Prado, sports group director at HNTB in Kansas City. “That’s what every soccer stadium should have.”
And in a nod to South America’s “hinchada” fan groups, a separate entrance and club area would be built for Republic FC supporter groups to come into the stadium together. That entrance – on the stadium’s northwest side – would also include a public plaza that could be used during days when there are no games.
“You’re going to feel like you’re right on the pitch,” Nagle said. “You’re going to feel the energy of the players and the players are going to feel the energy of the fans.”
At up to 25,000 seats, the stadium would be among the largest soccer-specific stadiums in MLS. Smith said the stadium could open with fewer than 25,000 seats.
Smith added that he has had preliminary talks with Sacramento State about hosting some college football games, including the annual Causeway Classic game with UC Davis.