City of San Antonio and Bexar County officials on Wednesday announced a plan to jointly purchase Toyota Stadium from local philanthropist Gordon Hartman in an effort to attract a new Major League Soccer team to the Alamo City. The deal involves a collaboration with Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SS&E), which would be the stadium’s first tenant under the new ownership.
The $18 million purchase of the stadium will be split between the City and County, while SS&E will pay $3 million for a 20-year lease. Gordon Hartman, a local philanthropist and retired developer, will receive a total of $21 million if the deal is approved by City Council and the Bexar County Commissioner Court next week.
Toyota Field is home to the San Antonio Scorpions, part of the North American Soccer League, which is also owned by Hartman. The ultimate fate of the team is up in the air. Neither Hartman nor an SS&E representative could be reached for comment by deadline.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he expects the team to finish its season at the field before any changes take place.
SS&E will spend up to 13 years convincing MLS officials that San Antonio and the Toyota Field can support a team. Failure to do so would mean SS&E would pay the City and County $2.5 million each as part of a clawback agreement. MLS recently announced Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Miami as target for expansion franchises by 2020, which would bring the total number of MLS markets to 24. San Antonio hopes to be a part of the next wave, meaning no one is suggesting the city could attract a MLS team in the near term.
Even Wednesday’s announced deal is “not a guarantee” that MLS will be coming to San Antonio, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said at a hastily called afternoon press conference at the San Antonio International Airport. “To even be in the competition, we (the City) have to have ownership of the stadium to go after Major League Soccer and a willingness to expand that stadium in the future to the specification that major league soccer wants.”
Toyota Field seats 8,000. The smallest MLS stadium, Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif. seats 18,000. The average size for a MLS stadium is about 20,000.
Toyota Field was built with an expansion in mind and already has renderings of what such an expansion might look like and the cost estimates. Hartman’s $38-45 million expansion proposal made public in September 2014 would have added 10,000 seats to the field for a total of 18,000.
First things first, Sculley said: “We would want to be further along with Major League Soccer before that kind of commitment is made.”
Once purchased, any expansion of the stadium using City or County dollars would require voter approval. The City is paying for its half of the purchase with funds from its Convention and Sports Facilities Reserve, which is supported by fees paid to other City-owned facilities and the Hotel Occupancy Tax. Bexar County’s $9 million is coming from its General Revenue Fund, Wolff said. He was confident that just as voters supported the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts they also would support an upgraded soccer stadium.
“All the kids today are playing soccer,” he said. “And the thing about soccer is you can do it for maybe 10% of the cost of a Major League Baseball Stadium or (another Alamodome). It’s a very cost-effective investment.”
The City and County would form a public facilities corporation (PFC) to own the stadium, which would maintain ownership of the stadium even if MLS never comes to San Antonio.
“Yet to be determined is exactly which league of soccer will be playing in the facility,” Sculley said. The field could instead host a United Soccer League team.
“The backup plan is you continue to play minor league soccer,” Wolff said. “That’s not what we want and that’s not why we’re making this investment, that’s why there’s a clawback (agreement).”
This story was originally published on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.
*Top image: (Top) The current, 8,000-seat Toyota Field. (Bottom) Rendering of that could be the future of the Toyota Field, an additional 10,000 seats. Photos courtesy of the Scorpions FC and Toyota Field Facebook pages.