Prolific Raleigh developer John Kane and North Carolina Football Club owner Steve Malik are now pitching an alternative location for a downtown sports stadium in Raleigh.
Malik, in an interview with Spectrum News, said that he and Kane have 40 acres south of downtown “under control” for a potentially massive redevelopment, which could bring a Major League Soccer stadium, hotels and other amenities to a part of town that is starting to see a wave of investment.
North Carolina FC initially bid for an MLS franchise in late 2016 and is currently competing against cities like Sacramento, St. Louis, Charlotte and Detroit for a team. MLS currently has 24 teams, but it is expanding to 28 teams, with Miami and Nashville already promised spots. Many people believe the league could have more than 30 teams one day.
A new stadium is seen as a requirement for landing a team, and so far, the group doesn’t appear to have had much traction with its initial site selection — state-owned land on the corner of Salisbury and Peace streets. That land would require the state government to agree to a redevelopment.
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“We’ve got 40-plus acres we (now) control,” Malik said in the Spectrum interview. “With that much acreage, it is a little different than the thirteen acres we previously had, where the additional development was limited.”
The new site would be in an “opportunity zone” — a new feature in the country’s tax code that allows developers to earn savings on capital gains by investing in economically disadvantaged areas — that stretches from the Red Hat Amphitheater to south of I-440.
Kane, in an email, said he couldn’t disclose the exact location of the 40 acres yet, but did note that it was within the Raleigh beltline — an indication that it is likely close to downtown somewhere along the South Saunders Street corridor.
Malik, who bought the team in 2015, and Kane are currently pitching the idea to Wake County and are hoping to receive funds from the Interlocal Agreement, a pool of money that comes from the Wake County room occupancy and prepared food and beverage taxes, to finance the project. The tax generated around $55 million in the 2018 fiscal year.
The North Carolina FC group is one of several applying for money from the county. North Carolina FC and Kane are asking for more than $300 million to fund the stadium, which would be paid out in $11 million chunks per year for 30 years beginning in 2022.
The potential stadium is contingent on those funds, Kane said.
The South Saunders Street corridor, where the stadium could end up, has seen an influx of investment in recent years, benefiting from a thriving downtown core and the city’s investment into Dorothea Dix Park. One developer recently proposed building up to 20 stories in the area.
The city views the entire area as the southern gateway into town and has sought ways to spur development there, funding a study in 2017 that envisioned a massive makeover of the area with re-routed streets and mixed-use offices and residences to create an attractive welcome to the capital city.
A property where a Cargill plant was recently demolished has sparked interest from developers, and many see it as one of the last major redevelopment areas near downtown, The News & Observer has previously reported.
Winning an MLS franchise is far from assured, however.
Raleigh is one of the smaller TV markets submitting a bid and it faces increasing pressure from an in-state rival bid in Charlotte, which now has the backing of Panthers billionaire owner David Tepper.
“We’re intrigued by Charlotte,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said at the MLS All-Star game in Atlanta last year. “We’re well aware of David Tepper’s interest and obviously that’s a great development for the city, for their football team, for their fans. The fact that he’s interested in MLS is a positive. We’ve also had lots of interest from Raleigh. Steve Malik who owns the NWSL and the USL team in that market is here this weekend, he’s a big close friend of the league, and is focused on perhaps MLS in that city. So it goes into the hopper to try to figure out how the path to 28 gets realized.”
In the Spectrum News interview, Malik admitted that he doesn’t think Raleigh will be selected in the next round of expansion, which would take the league to 28 teams. He also said the stadium would still be an attractive investment — albeit on a smaller scale — with just the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League and North Carolina FC, which currently plays in the USL, there.
But he believes the city could have a good chance if MLS does indeed add more than 30 teams.