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Kickers look to take over City Stadium; $20M in upgrades planned

Michael Schwartz November 17, 2016 10

The City Stadium site encompasses 22 acres at 3301 Maplewood Ave., just south of Carytown. (Kieran McQuilkin)

The City Stadium site encompasses 22 acres at 3301 Maplewood Ave., just south of Carytown. (Kieran McQuilkin)

While the exact location of the future home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels is still up in the air, the city’s other professional sports team knows exactly where it wants to be.

The Richmond Kickers, the professional soccer team that has operated in the city for two decades, has submitted a proposed agreement to lease City Stadium from the city for 40 years and pay for $20 million worth of upgrades to the facility during that time.

The proposed agreement follows studies concluded earlier this year by the city to determine the best use for the City Stadium site, which encompasses 22 acres at 3301 Maplewood Ave. just south of Carytown. The lease has been presented to the city and will be considered by City Council at its Dec. 12 meeting.

“This is a great opportunity for the Kickers to make City Stadium our permanent home and to improve the stadium for the city, the neighborhood, the Red Army (the team’s fan group) and the entire soccer community,” said Vernon Inge, president of the Kickers professional team. “We have big plans and we want everyone to be a part of it.”

The team has played its home games at the nearly century-old, 22,000-seat stadium since 1995. It currently has a permit from the city to play there.

As proposed, the Kickers would lease the stadium for a nominal fee, while paying for all upkeep, utilities and taxes.

The big kicker in the deal is the $20 million in upgrades the team wants to make to the stadium over time in three phases running through 2050. While details and exact specs are still in the works, the plan is to keep and build onto the bones of the existing structure to create a modern facility that will attempt to capitalize on the growing popularity of professional soccer in America and on recent momentum the team has seen in interest on the ground in Richmond.

The Kickers, playing in the United Soccer League, have experienced a bump in attendance in recent years, including a new high in average attendance of 4,000 fans at home games in the 2016 season. Its efforts this year culminated with a victory in an exhibition match over English Premier League club Swansea.

The deal outlines $20 million in upgrades to the stadium, in three phases, running through 2050. (Kieran McQuilkin)

The deal outlines $20 million in upgrades to the stadium, in three phases, running through 2050. (Kieran McQuilkin)

If the lease is approved, the Kickers would then have to immediately try to find funding for upgrades. The team, owned by the nonprofit Richmond Kickers youth soccer club, will be taking a gamble on the hope of revenue-generating opportunities that would come with an upgraded facility. That includes enhanced avenues for sponsorships, such as on-field signage and naming rights to the stadium, as well as increased ticket revenue by offering fans a better experience.

While $20 million might seem like a steep commitment for a nonprofit, the organization does have four decades to hit many of the benchmarks.

The lease calls for Phase 1 of the upgrades to include around $385,000 of improvements to landscaping, fencing, the parking lot, seating, the field and irrigation, to be completed by 2020.

Phase 2 calls for an additional $3 million to improve the concourse, signage, stadium lighting, team facilities and rehabbing the restrooms by 2030.

The final phase would run through 2050 and calls for improvements in parking, a press box, additional seating, mini-fields and Futsal courts and other measures.

The agreement would remove the burden of upkeep off the city’s shoulders while bringing the stadium further into the tax rolls. The Kickers would pay leasehold taxes, and ideally, once improvements are made, increased admissions and sales tax.

The city states in documents filed with the proposed lease that the stadium property is in need of major improvements, but no such funding is currently planned or budgeted.

The agreement also would allow the city and Richmond Public Schools to continue to use the facility for events and parking throughout the year.

“The benefit is, we receive new income, we can continue to use it and we’d receive some significant improvements to make it a much better facility,” said the city’s Economic Development Director Lee Downey, whose department has been involved in the discussions.

Downey said the proposed lease with the Kickers aligns with the results of the study of the best future use of the stadium site.

“What came out of it is that the highest and best use – and what the neighborhood would like to see – is what it’s used for now.

Inge said the Kickers are pleased to continue the relationship.

“The Kickers and the city have had a longstanding, positive relationship,” Inge said. “And the Kickers have been playing at City Stadium since 1995, so we do really consider it our home.”

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10 Comments »

  1. Bert Hapablap November 17, 2016 at 8:15 am - Reply

    Definitely sounds like a great idea and a win for both the Kickers and the city. Don’t mess this up Richmond.

  2. ron virgin November 17, 2016 at 8:52 am - Reply

    I’m cautiously optimistic this could be a good idea, but the city needs money and this piece of real estate may have a more valuable use. With the city’s assistance, a soccer field/stadium could be part of the mixed-use development that will house the Flying Squirrels in the Boulevard area.

  3. suzysmith November 17, 2016 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Hallelujah! As a neighbor of the city stadium (and a fan of the Kickers) this is music to my ears. For years, we’ve been asking the city to please just pay a little attention to this property – at least make it look somewhat attractive to those of us who drive by multiple times a day. I’m thrilled to see the Kickers commit to the site, and more thrilled to see what general improvements will be made to that plot of land!!

  4. Brian Glass November 17, 2016 at 10:30 am - Reply

    The Richmond Kickers have quite possibly solved the riddle regarding the replacement of the Diamond.

    If the Kickers are willing to spend $20 million in upgrades for City Stadium, that same $20 million could be used for a dual baseball/soccer stadium on the Boulevard.

    That is precisely what was done in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Oneok Field was built for the Tulsa Drillers AA baseball team, and is also the home of the Tulsa Roughnecks soccer team.

    The City will then have a viable 22 acre site that could be sold to a developer for a variety of uses.

    Let’s do the math: If a new baseball stadium costs $55 million, the cost would be reduced to $35 million,with the Kickers kicking in $20 million, which is more manageable. If you add naming rights ( ie: Oneok Field in Tulsa), VCU and the Flying Squirrels contributions the numbers should easily fall into line.

    The incoming mayor has to make the deal work with the Kickers moving. If not City Stadium or a new baseball/soccer stadium, where would the Strikers go?

  5. Sarah Janeczek November 17, 2016 at 11:55 am - Reply

    I live in this neighborhood and took part in the survey of what would be the best use for that land. Overwhelmingly, the citizens in the neighborhood voted for the stadium to remain a stadium in lieu of tearing it down and putting up retail, houses, or apartments.

    The Kickers have already started to make cosmetic improvements and it’s looking a lot nicer than it was. I’m excited to see that they have future plans to upgrade the stadium and surrounding properties as it currently looks pretty dumpy.

    My only concern is for street parking in the neighborhood. So far, the only time that parking has spilled over into the neighborhood was for the premier league games, which only happen once per season. It’s annoying on that day but honestly, it’s not that big of a deal.

    A lot of people and families attend the games. I think it would be marvelous if the City and the Kickers could work out a system where locally-owned food businesses have first shot at doing concessions and setting up food trucks for the games.

  6. Strathmore Endicott November 17, 2016 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    We should be thinking big, if we had corporate leaders that stepped up to the plate and a little regional cooperation. Richmond should be going after MLS.

  7. Will Meyer November 17, 2016 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    It should be the home of VCU Football !!!!

    GO RAMS!!!

  8. John Summerville November 18, 2016 at 11:57 am - Reply

    As a longtime Kickers supporter, I am overjoyed that the team will remain in City Stadium for many years to come. As for the post from Scott Burger, what better use for the stands on the east side of the stadium than a giant solar array? Although I imagine they would lose their sponsorship from Dominion Power.

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