By Kyle Kepner for SoccerNation
Much has been made of the contentious race to secure one of the next four expansion slots into Major League Soccer. Since the league’s January 31st application deadline, the fate of each of the 12 applicant cities have risen and fallen primarily on the bidding owners’ ability to deliver the number-one item on the MLS wish list: a soccer-specific stadium.
Phoenix Rising FC, once considered a dark horse in this race, is one of the only candidates facing none of the obstacles to stadium development that hampers other markets, and its ownership group has quickly and methodically achieved every objective necessary for the MLS stamp of approval.
Location, Location, Location
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, home of the current United Soccer League club, and proposed home of the future MLS franchise, sits at the corner of approximately 550 acres of land at the southwest extent of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community – also known as the center of the Phoenix area’s soccer demographic.
Most importantly for this race – and with two announcements promised by MLS before New Year’s Day, this is definitely a race – the stadium complex has plenty of space for a 25,000-seat stadium with amenities, and the red tape has already been cut.
The land at the site is generationally owned, and the families involved are in agreement to develop the footprint.
In a statement at the re-brand event, David Fordon, CEO and General Manager of the Solanna Group, the owners of the parcel said, “We’re quite impressed by Phoenix Rising FC’s grasp of the goal we are trying to achieve … for a quality sports and entertainment environment. We also appreciate the Club’s commitment to bring a state-of-the-art, FIFA stadium designed for Arizona’s climate to Salt River as a significant contribution to the economic growth of the Community.”
The current pop-up stadium used for USL matches occupies 15.8 acres, and approximately 17 more are available for parking. A total of 77 are currently under lease, but details on the final design of an MLS stadium complex will dictate how much more land, if any, will be needed from the Solanna Group.
It’s a Dry Heat
More than a tourism slogan, noting the dry heat of the Sonoran Desert is essential in understanding that the weather in the Phoenix area actually lends itself well to fan comfort and player safety.
While exploring options for climate control in a new venue, Phoenix Rising has found that when compared to extremely humid cities like Houston and Orlando, Phoenix fares favorably. That’s because in the desert, player and fan perspiration evaporates and cools to a degree that is quite comfortable in the shade.
The last piece in Phoenix Rising’s stadium plan, therefore, has been to engage an architect that can optimize on this phenomenon, and create a world-class environment that will keep fans comfortable and players safe through the most difficult months of the summer, July and August.
Recently, club ownership was in Kansas City, where they met with seven different architects, all of which put forth conceptual plans for a new MLS stadium that will be innovative in its approach to economically cooling the dry desert air.
MLS executives were on hand for the meetings with the architecture firms, which is significant. The prevailing opinion in the league office had previously been that adequate cooling could not be achieved without a domed stadium. Now that all parties have had a chance to see the latest in cooling technology and its effect on the Sonoran air, however, Phoenix Rising ownership is confident that a more affordable stadium design will be accepted by the league.
The club plans to name its preferred architect and plan by August 3.
Getting It Done
In May, the club secured financing with Goldman Sachs. They also retained Charles Baker and Irwin P. Raij from the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, who have extensive experience in pro sports transactions at the highest levels.
Phoenix Rising has unequivocally checked every box within its control. They have even produced a rabid fan base the size of which is envied by the vast majority of USL clubs.
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