Elk Grove News

Elk Grove approves 100-acre land purchase, seeks pro soccer team

Elk Grove is buying a 100-acre parcel south of the city with an eye toward building a long-sought complex that would draw Major League Soccer to the city.

The nearly $4.4 million land deal for farmland at Grant Line Road and Highway 99 was approved Wednesday by the Elk Grove City Council.

“There’s quite a bit of due diligence to do, but it’s a really good location,” said Elk Grove City Manager Laura Gill. “There may be other facilities that can go in there, but we are considering that for a soccer complex. It’s a good investment.”

Mayor Gary Davis stressed at Wednesday’s council meeting that “no one’s going to build a stadium until there’s an ironclad agreement” with a franchise.

Elk Grove has been working for several years with Northern California Soccer LLC, the group led by former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, to bring professional soccer to the city.

Talks so far have been nonbinding, but Nunez’s group has allowed the city to increase revenue through ticket and parking surcharges should the complex be built, and the two sides continue to work toward a binding document that would be approved once a franchise is awarded, Gill said in a status report on talks with Northern California Soccer at Wednesday’s council meeting.

The land purchase comes after the city of Sacramento has aggressively pursued a Major League Soccer franchise this summer, building off a successful first season by minor-league team Sacramento Republic FC.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Sacramento Kings President Chris Granger and Republic President Warren Smith made a pitch to MLS executives earlier this month, and MLS officials have agreed to visit Sacramento in September. Núñez on Wednesday said that Republic FC’s success only underscores soccer’s popularity in the region, but insisted that Elk Grove is a better fit for a major-league franchise despite MLS’ trend toward urban venues.

Downtown stadiums “are not always an easy find,” Nunez said. “The model for MLS is to move to downtown stadiums, but downtown stadiums are difficult to build. Downtown Sacramento is a great place, but we’ve been at it a long time before a third-division team took place. The best path to a major-league franchise is what we’re doing right now. This will give Elk Grove a leg up in the chase to bring major-league soccer to this region.”

Vice Mayor James Cooper touted the complex as one that could host concerts, youth sports tournaments and other draws.

“Soccer is one component, but it’s bigger than soccer. We need to be cautious and careful, but it’s viable.”

Council member Patrick Hume sounded caution.

“We’re getting closer to a good deal, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

Elk Grove and Northern California Soccer have worked separately on a proposed $88 million, 18,000-seat stadium and complex. The city and Northern California Soccer have had an exclusive negotiating pact since 2011 that extends through the end of 2016.

“We’ve talked about a number of high priorities, but the common stumbling block is that we don’t have the land,” Davis said. “We want to purchase it so we can have it available.”

The land deal was tucked into the consent agenda for Wednesday’s City Council’s meeting. Under the agreement, the city would purchase 100 acres from Frank Loretz and Mundell Land and Livestock Co. Inc.

Elk Grove plans to bankroll the $4.4 million deal with money internally borrowed from the city’s stormwater drainage fund. The city will borrow $6 million total to pay for the land, closing costs and studies on alternative uses for the acreage, according to a staff report. The loan would be paid off with interest over 10 years beginning in fiscal year 2015-16.

City officials believe the project would generate additional sales and hotel taxes to help repay the purchase costs, according to a staff report.

The deal, like other land transactions, was discussed in closed session before landing on Wednesday’s agenda as a non-discussion item. The 100-acre farm property sits in unincorporated Sacramento County, but city staff said in their report that they anticipate Elk Grove will annex the parcel.

MLS leaders have said they likely want to expand the professional soccer league by two teams to 24, but do not expect franchises beyond that for several years. Sacramento officials have moved quickly to put the capital city in position to land one of the two squads, but they face competition from Minneapolis and Las Vegas, among other cities.

The Sacramento group has not chosen a spot for a $100 million to $125 million stadium, but the downtown railyard area has emerged as a primary location target.

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