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Soccer Deal Dead? Charlotte Mayor Says 'We Are Not Prepared To Move Forward At This Time'

Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth would be torn down and a new soccer stadium built, under the plan.

Less than an hour after Mecklenburg County Commissioners  voted 5 to 3 to move forward with a plan to bring a Major League Soccer team to Charlotte, the Charlotte City Council effectively killed the proposal, canceling a vote that had been scheduled for Friday.

"Over the past several days, we have been discussing this opportunity," the city council said in a statement, "and while this is very promising, it is clear that we are not prepared to move forward at this time on the current soccer proposal."

Council members had been wavering on the issue since early last week. Some were concerned with the large price tag -- roughly $44 million from the city and another $44 million from the county. Others were concerned by the tight deadline. A decision had to be made by Jan. 31, in time to submit a formal bid.

Council member Julie Eiselt publicly expressed her opposition to the plan last Tuesday on WFAE's Charlotte Talks. Her concerns were twofold.

"I think that it's too much of an investment from the public sector as it stands," she said, "And because of the deadline which was imposed on everybody, we just don't have time to negotiate that. So as it stands, I can't support it." 

Major League Soccer has set a Jan. 31 deadline for final bids from prospective expansion teams in 10 cities. The league is adding two teams this year. But stadium deals are seen as key for a successful bid. With the city council's move to cancel the public meeting, it seems Charlotte's chances of landing a team are likely dead.

County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour voted against the deal. Asked after the vote what might happen if Charlotte also opposed the deal, he said: "Then I suppose the deal is either killed or they deal has to be renegotiate for something they think will be appealing to both the county commission and the city council at that point."

That seems unlikely, given the tight deadline.

It's also possible the ownership group, led by Bruton and Marcus Smith of Concord-based Speedway Motor Sports, could decide to go it alone, and finance the stadium themselves. But even that would require negotiating some kind of deal with the county.

A spokesman said Marcus Smith was not available to comment Thursday afternoon. He said "any next steps regarding MLS are still to be determined."

Host Nick de la Canal and reporter David Boraks talked about the latest developments in the MLS deal in WFAE's noon newscast.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.
Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal