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County Commission Says 'Yes,' City Council Says No To MLS Stadium

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A Charlotte group’s bid for a Major League Soccer team appeared well on its way Thursday morning, when Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted 5 to 3 in favor of contributing $44 million toward a new stadium. Less than an hour later, it was apparently dead.  

The idea was to replace the aging Memorial Stadium and Grady Cole Center near uptown with a new $175 million stadium.  

But the plan also needed $44 million from the City of Charlotte. And the MLS deadline for bids next Tuesday was fast approaching. City council members have been skeptical and said they felt rushed.

So not long after the county commission vote, the council announced it was canceling Friday's public hearing and vote. 

“Major League Soccer is something that would be great in our city, but we have to be able to express and understand the project, the deal, and what the community's reaction is, and we didn't have the time to do that,” Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles said.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts also says a major deal like this needs more time.

“Over the past several days we have been discussing this opportunity, 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,” she said in a statement.

Council members didn't get a formal presentation about the stadium plan until Monday night, and there was no time that night to ask questions. As the week went on, it was looking more and more like it wouldn’t pass.

Earlier in the day, five of the six Democrats on the county commission supported the deal, including Commissioner Trevor Fuller.  

“If you think about the space between 7th Street and Elizabeth, away from the stadium, you see that there’s a lot of opportunity for economic development,” Fuller said after the vote. “And we've had some analysis of that that shows that $500 to $700 million of economic development is possible.”

Voting against the plan were Democrat Pat Cotham and Republicans Matthew Ridenhour and Jim Puckett. Puckett objects to tearing down the old stadium and giving tax dollars to a for-profit business.

Ridenhour worries it would limit the county's ability to pay for other projects in the future - like parks and schools. And he doesn’t like public financing of stadiums.

“Economists overwhelmingly agree that publicly financed stadiums are a bad deal for taxpayers. They rarely if ever recoup the tax dollars that they’ve invested into those capital programs,” Ridenhour said.

The money would have come from the county's capital budget, for infrastructure and other large projects. County manager Dena Diorio says the county has the capacity to fund the stadium project.  

The Charlotte ownership group is headed by Bruton and Marcus Smith - of racetrack owner Speedway Motor Sports in Concord.  They would have paid the remaining $88 million or so toward the new stadium, plus a $150 million franchise fee to the MLS.

On Thursday afternoon, the ownership group said Marcus Smith wouldn’t be making any statements right away.  A spokesman said “any next steps ... are still to be determined.”

It’s not clear what that means. The Smiths could find another way to finance the new stadium, though they’d still need county approval. But any reworked deal seems like a longshot given the tight deadline.

Marcus Smith has said previously that without public financing, the bid is dead.

Major League Soccer says it will pick two expansion teams alter this year. Also in the running: A group from Raleigh/Durham, which recently bought the nation’s top professional women’s soccer team.

WFAE host Mark Rumsey talked to reporter David Boraks about Thursday's developments during "All Things Considered" at 4:45pm.