In an attempt to convince Major League Soccer that its expansion bid is far beyond the competition, the group leading Sacramento’s effort announced Thursday it is beginning pre-construction activities at the site of a 19,621-seat stadium in the downtown railyard.
Construction crews will work in the railyard for the next several weeks, adding and leveling soil to the 14.9-acre stadium site in the northeast corner of the development. The team’s goal is to complete the first phase before wet weather arrives, allowing for the soil to settle and crews to begin vertical construction in the spring. Republic FC officials compared the initial phase to the demolition of the former Downtown Plaza that made way for the eventual construction of Golden 1 Center.
The pre-construction work – being called a “Ground Making” – will place Republic FC on a realistic timeline to finish the stadium in time for the 2020 MLS season.
With the downtown skyline in the background, Republic FC officials, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and members of the City Council celebrated the launch of the stadium project.
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“I hope this serves as a statement of high confidence of where we stand with Major League Soccer,” said the mayor, predicting the city would land an expansion spot.
Republic FC Chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle said he has “never been so optimistic” in the city’s chances.
“Sacramento is making our strongest statement yet about our commitment to MLS,” he said. Nagle said his group of investors was making a “multimillion-dollar” investment in the first phase of construction alone.
A soccer stadium would be one anchor of a redeveloped railyard that will also include a massive Kaiser Permanente hospital complex and 10,000 homes.
“Over the next two decades, this project will shape our future,” said Councilman Jeff Harris.
The announcement was made as MLS officials prepare to gather in Chicago for the annual All-Star game and owner meetings next week. Republic FC will send a contingent to the annual meeting to campaign for their expansion bid.
MLS is expected to announce two expansion awards by December. Sacramento is one of 12 cities vying for those spots and has long been considered one of the front-runners to join the nation’s premier professional soccer league.
If Sacramento loses out, the next construction phase would not begin in spring.
By beginning preparation work at the railyard, Republic FC is hoping to send a message to MLS that its bid is well ahead of the other cities’. The Sacramento stadium, which will be privately financed, already has the approval of the City Council. The deep-pocketed ownership group includes Nagle, San Francisco 49ers principal owner Jed York and former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.
Stadium site delays led a group spearheading San Diego’s bid to ask MLS to postpone its decision on granting the last two spots until after the November 2018 election. Voters in St. Louis defeated a stadium funding measure in April, a result the league called “clearly a significant setback for the city’s expansion opportunity.”
Lukewarm government support in Charlotte is threatening to leave a funding gap for a soccer stadium in that city. And other bid cities remain in the early stages of their stadium proposals, releasing architectural drawings but lacking advanced funding plans or sites.