MLS commissioner: Stadium in Downtown preferred for all future MLS expansion franchises

Previous Study Suggests Soccer Stadium South Of Paisano

EL PASO, Texas - Before El Paso can get a Major League Soccer expansion team it first needs to have a stadium and it preferably should be in downtown.

Since December, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has talked about possible league expansion and stadium locations.

He reiterated his conditions for future expansion franchises on June 11 when discussing Miami's issues with getting a stadium. The problems were reported in an article posted on MLS' website.

"We cannot go to Miami unless we have not just a viable, but a very, very strong downtown location for a city that will be provided with a Major League Soccer franchise that can privately finance a stadium," Garber told reporters at Stade Saputo.

The City of El Paso had several Quality of Life Bond project meetings prior to putting projects on the ballot in November 2012 and several El Pasoans said they wanted a major league soccer stadium, estimated to cost between $100 million and $120 million. The soccer stadium project was not put on the ballot.

Voters did approve a $180 million multipurpose arena in the November 2012 Quality of Life Bond election. There is no current timetable for when it would be built.

At the June 2012 El Paso City Council meeting where building a Downtown baseball stadium was approved, a presentation was made that included where a Major League Soccer stadium could be built.

The study recommended that the publicly-owned site south of Paisano, near the Union Depot, was best for an MLS facility because the size of the site can accommodate a soccer stadium with minimal brownfields impacts from railyards.

Its proximity to the border aligned with market potentials and could be a significant catalyst for adjacent private development opportunities, according to the study.

Garber in December talked about league expansion in his state of the league address, including the desire to have stadiums in downtowns.

"The downtown formula has been working for us and it's hard to imagine that we would go into a market where we don't have that scenario. … It's not an absolute, but whether it's Minneapolis, or St. Louis, or Austin or San Antonio," Garber said in his address. "All the potential stadium sites and I say potential because we haven't even begun to look deeply in any of those markets, all of them would be within the urban core."

He also touched on potential expansion markets.

"There are a number of other markets that we don't have teams in that are large swaths of the country … The Midwest is one of them which is why we've thrown Minneapolis out … There are a number of cities in Texas which are intriguing to us. San Antonio is one, Austin is another … St. Louis is a market that same group of soccer promoters have done a great job selling out soccer events … St. Louis could be another great market," Garber said in his address. 

In the MLS article, Garber reiterated the league's commitment to expand to the Southeast but he conceded that large portions of the country remain without a team.

"I think that it's fair to say that, as we look at what's been going on in the soccer landscape in the US and Canada, the professional scale over the last two years, it has surprised us in terms of how much interest there is in the game," he said, "whether it's international series, the USL [PRO] teams – Sacramento's drawing over 20,000 fans a game. "There is a level of interest in the professional game now that is unprecented. And actually, it has us pleasantly surprised."

In March, Garber was asked about the possibily of expanding to several cities, including Austin and San Antonio.

"It's premature for both markets. .... Expanding in Texas is something that is likely to happen," Garber said. "Where that happens, when that happens is still to be seen."

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