A group of investors is interested in building a $100 million Major League Soccer stadium along the waterfront in the city of Chester, legislators confirmed today.
The group has been working on the project for two years and hopes to have a meeting soon with Gov. Rendell, Major League Soccer Commissioner Donald P. Garber and key legislators to talk about securing some public funding, a source told the Inquirer today.
The investors hope to open the stadium and start a Major League soccer franchise in 2009 or 2010, but one local legislator cautioned that negotiations are in the early stages.
Last September, negotiations to build a professional soccer stadium at Rowan University collapsed when the state declined to provide aid.
Whether the effort to get public funding for the Pennsylvania project will be any more successful is uncertain.
Two sites along the waterfront are being considered, but officials declined to name them today.
The New York City-based Major League Soccer confirmed it is in negotiations with the group, with "no specific timetable" for a conclusion. The league remains highly interested in locating a franchise in the Philadelphia region.
"Philadelphia has the potential to be a tremendous market for professional soccer," said Dan Courtemanche, senior vice president of marketing and communications, for the league.
Investors are asking the city of Chester, Delaware County and Pennsylvania for funding to support the project, said Sen. Dominic Pileggi, (R., Delaware). He said he wasn't sure how much money they were seeking.
"We're talking about what is the appropriate level of participation," he said.
Pileggi described the investor group as "substantial" in their "ability to raise capital."
Pileggi and others who have talked with the investors declined to identify them.
Attempts to include funding for the project in the recent state budget failed, but state Rep. Dwight Evans, (D., Phila.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said today that it's still possible funding could come from the state's capital budget.
"It's still very much alive," Evans said. "I'm supportive of it. I think it would be good for the region. I think it would put Philadelphia in the ball park somewhere down the line to compete for the Olympics."
Pileggi said it's also possible that funding could come from gaming revenue. A stadium for the Pittsburgh Penguins is in line to get gaming revenue, he pointed out.
A soccer stadium and franchise certainly would be a boon to the struggling, impoverished city, which recently got a boost from the addition of a major gambling facility.
"It would increase job opportunities. It would increase revenues coming in and folks coming into the city to see a professional soccer team," said state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, (D., Delaware).
It also could further heighten an already growing interest in youth soccer in the region.
Gov. Rendell's office said Rendell has participated in some "general discussion" about the project, but is not ready to take a position on it.
"All discussions have been conceptual in nature and additional details need to be flushed out," said Doug Rohanna, director of communications for Gov. Rendell.
The project is in the "early stages," said David Sciocchetti, executive director of the Chester Economic Development Authority. "A deal like this is extremely complicated and it goes though ups and downs. It's important that we don't all get too caught up and excited until it's real."
Major League Soccer, the nation's professional soccer league, was founded in 1996. With 13 teams, it is in its 12th season and is poised to make a major expansion.
The league is in discussion with more than a dozen sites competing to start new franchises in the United States, the league's Courtemanche said. It wants to grow to 16 teams by 2010, he said.
The season begins in early April and runs through October.
Details on the size of the proposed stadium weren't available today, but MLS facilities tend to hold between 20,000 and 30,000 people, according to the group's web site.
Sciocchetti said the project could help the city, adding to the recent Harrah's Race Track & Casino and a 400,000-square-foot office complex on the waterfront.
"It is exciting that MLS and a potential investor group might find Chester attractive," he said. "Having said that, we want to have a lot more information before we would be in a position to make any real decisions."