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Sacramento eyes shot at major league soccer team

An artist's rendering of a proposed major league soccer stadium in the Railyards section of Sacramento. (Image: Sacramento Republic FC)

As the race to fill the nation’s few remaining Major League Soccer spots heats up, Sacramento is going all in to get the ball rolling on a multi-million dollar stadium.

Sacramento’s soccer team, the Sacramento Republic FC – known locally as Sac Republic — just broke ground on a $250 million stadium located between 8th and 10th Streets in the historical plot of ground known as the Railyards just north of downtown. Ultimately, backers say, this privately funded stadium will soon be home to the state’s fourth Major League Soccer team.

Sacramento soccer advocates have presented renderings of the stadium to Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other city officials in the historic brick buildings in an area of the Railyards.

But there are problems: While Sac Republic is actively taking steps to secure a bid, so too is St. Louis. And while Sacramento has broken ground, the financing for the new stadium isn’t nailed down – not yet. Absent a bid, the private sector investment falls through.

The race to get one of the few available expansion slots — there are three remaining across the country — on the MLS lineup is fierce between the two cities, but Sac Republic’s president and chief operating officer noted, “We’ve never wavered in our belief that Sacramento and this community have everything it takes to be the next MLS expansion franchise. Given the league’s recent announcement on expansion, our confidence remains as high as ever that we’ll get the expansion team our city and our fans have earned.”

Since there are three  slots left, the fight between Sacramento and St. Louis is to get the next available opening. Whoever loses out likely will be first in line to compete for another slot sometime in the future.

Sacramento soccer advocates have presented renderings of the stadium to Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other city officials in the historic brick buildings in an area of the Railyards known collectively as the Central Shops, a small piece of the largest infill project in the U.S.

This release of the renderings comes ahead of St. Louis’ efforts, which included prompting local fans there to hastily demand to see updates from team owners, suggesting a tense, closely watched battle.

Both cities struggled to meet the demands of MLS soccer prior to late 2018.

This stadium is expected to spur 1,755 construction jobs and entice long-term business investment in the surrounding area.

By early October, St. Louis had secured a “whale” – slang for a primary, private investor — in the way of billionaire Jack Taylor and family, the owners of Enterprise, the world’s largest rental car company. His daughters are likely to tout majority female ownership, which would be a milestone for MLS soccer and an advantage over Sacramento.         

Shortly afterward, Sacramento secured its own “whale” — Ron Burkle, a New York-based billionaire who has been active for years in California politics and who owns the Pittsburgh Penguins. In an effort to close the gap with St. Louis, Sacramento leaped at the idea of a new stadium.

This stadium is expected to spur 1,755 construction jobs and entice long-term business investment in the surrounding area in much the same way as was promised with the construction of the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings.

Steinberg, in a speech at the Republic’s ground-breaking celebration, said, “So what everyone’s asking, of course, is are we going to get major league soccer? And so some might say well, geez, shouldn’t we wait for the bid to come through before we actually move ground? Well, I hope this serves today as a statement of high confidence about where we stand with major league soccer, because we’re moving ground before a formal announcement because we’re going to get major league soccer here in Sacramento.”

Steinberg is backing his support with a hefty $33 million incentive package “of fee waivers, tax rebates, and advertising rights and infrastructure financing” the Sacramento Bee reported.

At an April 9 Sacramento City Council meeting, John Dangberg, special economic development adviser to the city manager, announced that, “all the environmental and CEQA approvals are in place,” and that if the city were to be awarded an expansion team this month, construction could start as soon as August or September.

After a lengthy meeting full of affirmative testimony from investors, season ticket holders and advocates, the council voted 7-0 in support. This action was duly noted in a prompt statement by Major League Soccer, which said it was pleased that “the Sacramento City Council unanimously approved the preliminary term sheet for construction of a new soccer stadium at the Railyards site should Sacramento be awarded an MLS expansion club. We look forward to continuing our discussions with Ron Burkle and his partners regarding possible MLS expansion in Sacramento.”

The expansion announcement is expected by late July.

Editor’s Note: Corrects earlier to show three slots are available, not two. Edits throughout to conform. Julia Lindbloom, a student at Sierra College, is a Capitol Weekly intern.


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