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.
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.”