Plans are set to be revealed to keep Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise Columbus Crew in the US city through a new stadium and redevelopment of its existing home, with officials stating they will make the world of professional sports sit up and take notice.
City and county officials along with the Columbus Partnership have announced the next steps in the purchase of the Crew and details of a plan for Mapfre Stadium. Working under the deadline of this month imposed by MLS to keep the Crew in Columbus, the families of Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, and Dr. Peter Edwards of Columbus have been working to complete the purchase by the end of the year.
The City, county and new ownership are working toward a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to solidify the details of the sale of the team, a new stadium and the repurposing of Mapfre Stadium. The City has committed funds for infrastructure and land for a new stadium, while the County will be contributing money as well. Details for a new stadium are not yet available, but are set to emerge at a public hearing scheduled for later today (Thursday).
Mayor Andrew Ginther announced yesterday that part of the proposal includes moving the Crew’s practice facility to Mapfre Stadium once the new stadium is complete. The stadium will be turned into the Columbus Community Sports Park, a shared-use centre with an indoor soccer field and basketball courts, tournament-level outdoor athletic fields and programming spaces for multigenerational activities.
Ginther said: “We are excited about the possibilities of new ownership of the Columbus Crew and all that will bring to the City. Part of that plan must include reimagining the existing stadium, so we are investing in a community sports complex that will serve the people of Columbus. Nearly 200,000 residents live within three miles of this location. It will benefit residents of all ages and strengthen the connection between the soccer club and the City.”
Council President Shannon Hardin added: “It is important to Council that we show clear benefit to residents and nearby neighbourhoods, that we are not leaving such an iconic building sit empty, and that we engage the public in a vision to build new sports facilities that we can be proud of for years to come. This proposal meets those goals, and we appreciate the hard work of so many partners in the public and private sector.”
Following today’s public hearing, Council is expected to take up the MoU at a meeting on December 10. Alex Fischer, CEO of the Columbus Partnership, said: “We are on the verge of doing the impossible – saving the Crew in a very creative way and helping so many areas of Columbus through public-private partnerships. It is the Columbus Way, and it will be a model for professional sports and communities for years to come.”
Earlier this week, it was revealed that a lawsuit designed to keep the Crew in Ohio would proceed as planned after a judge dismissed a plea from the owners of the club and MLS itself to dismiss the case.
The future of the Crew has been the subject of a battle between owners Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV), which is seeking to take the team to a proposed new stadium in Austin, Texas, and the City of Columbus and State of Ohio, which are fighting to retain the club.
The Columbus Dispatch newspaper said the Crew would remain in Columbus and use Mapfre Stadium for two years before moving to a new stadium, under the proposal to be revealed later today.
The city will reportedly contribute up to $50m (£39.1m/€43.9m) toward the deal, including between $20m and $30m to repurpose Mapfre Stadium. The rest of the city’s contribution would be in the form of land and infrastructure for the new stadium.
Fischer added: “I think that when the world and the country look at the weekend’s news out of Columbus, both this (Mapfre) facility, what’s announced (Thursday), and all the progress that we’ve made, I think we will have turned heads around the world of professional sports, all looking at Columbus.”
Image: City of Columbus