Can Raleigh support a soccer stadium? Leaders want answers before handing out money.

PNC Arena and projects like the proposed soccer stadium south of downtown Raleigh have a better shot of receiving more tourism money under a new plan announced Monday by the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

But at the same time, elected leaders in Wake County want to answer the question: Can the city support a 20,000-seat stadium?

The Wake County and Raleigh city managers recommend increasing the pot of money available to $46.6 million, up from $42 million.

The plan also recommends Raleigh and Wake County conduct a feasibility study on the proposed soccer stadium, which the developers have said could also be used for other athletic, musical and community events.

PNC Arena already has been recommended for $8 million annually, a figure that could increase to $9 million under the new plan.

The Downtown South project, pitched by North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik and Raleigh developer John Kane, did not get a recommended funding amount. They have requested $330 million — $11 million per year for the next 30 years — from the city and county for the project.

Before Monday, they would have competed for a share of the $42 million against other community organizations, like Marbles Kids Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art.

The competitive process for the new pool of money still has to be worked out, and allocations would come after the study. The goal is to complete the study by December.

The tourism money comes from Wake County’s room occupancy and prepared food and beverages taxes. The money can only be used for tourism-related projects.

Feasibility study

A study could help the two governments determine if a stadium is needed, how many jobs it could bring and how much employees would be paid. It could also help them learn how much tourism revenue it could generate and how the stadium could be governed.

The study should look at many things including current and future affordable housing in the surrounding area, Wake County Commissioners Chairwoman Jessica Holmes said Monday.

“We want to avoid gentrification,” she said. “We have to make sure we enhance the area not only for people who might want to relocate near the stadium, but for the community that is already there.”

The project would sit on 55 acres around Penmarc Drive off South Saunders Street.

Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson was pleased with the new recommendation and called the stadium a “tremendous opportunity.”

“Speaking again about the downtown stadium, I think it is visionary and perfectly aligned with where we are as a city,” he said.

Developers pleased

Malik and Kane, both at the meeting, were pleased with the discussion, too.

“I think that shows they see the tremendous potential across the board for the project and it makes a lot of sense to put their questions on the table,” Malik said. “They said they want to have the community involved and we completely agree with that.”

The Wake County Board of Commissioners could vote on the new proposal on Aug. 19, and the Raleigh City Council could vote on Aug. 20.

The new plan would allocate $1.21 billion of the projected $1.24 billion in tourism revenue over 14 years, when the debt on PNC Arena would be paid off.

“We are squeezing every little bit of revenue, given the volatility of the fund,” said Wake County Assistant Manager Denise Foreman. “It’s pretty aggressive. And makes me a little nervous.”

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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