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Soccer Stadium Negotiations Close to Stalling
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
by: Laurie Johnson
The City of Houston and the Dynamo soccer team are still in negotiations over the construction of a soccer stadium. Negotiations haven't necessarily stalled, but they're also not moving forward. But recently, it appears the two parties are playing a game of hardball. Laurie Johnson reports.
Houston Mayor Bill White wants the Dynamo to pay for a soccer stadium. The City purchased land for that stadium. But that's where he says the public investment ends. Now the Mayor says he received a letter from Major League Soccer
officials that suggests if the city doesn't help pay for a stadium, they may move the team.
"I've gotten a little bit of a reputation, probably deserved, of being...you know, don't respond well to threats."
The letter, written by MLS Commissioner Donald Garber, is addressed to the Dynamo owners and was passed along to Mayor White. White says he got the impression the MLS is trying to pressure him.
"I personally think...it's our standard owners versus city play 103. You have the league write somebody."
Part of the letter reads "the Houston team will continue to lose money without a public-private partnership on a new soccer-stadium." It goes on to say "It is inconceivable that MLS will allow the team to continue playing as a secondary tenant in a college football facility."
Dynamo General Manager Oliver Luck says the point of that letter was to show the Mayor the pressure the Dynamo is under.
"And the point of that really was not to put any pressure on the mayor or to threaten the mayor by any means, but really to show the mayor that the ownership of the league is very concerned about the progress or lack thereof that we're making here in Houston."
The team is temporarily housed in Robertson Stadium at the University of Houston. Luck says they need a professional stadium. But he estimates it will cost $105 million to build.
"The city, as you know, has purchased the land, and we appreciate that. I'll say this, though, and this really is the bottom line: it's extraordinarily difficult for any private entity, including our ownership group, to commit to that kind of private funding for that stadium. Without any additional help from the city of Houston or other governmental entities, it will be very difficult for our ownership group to sign off on that deal because it doesn't make economic sense."
Mayor White says he doesn't think soccer fans should be alarmed by the current tone of the negotiations. When asked, he said he considers it part of the normal process.
Reporter: "Mayor, what if you're wrong and they are serious here? And this isn't just normal negotiations?"
Mayor White: "Then they'll move."
Reporter: "And that's okay?"
Mayor White: "I would prefer them to stay, and I think they'd make money if they stay. But we're not going to take money out of the police budget and the fire budget or have some big new tax that is imposed on everybody in the community in order to build a stadium."
Both men say they're disappointed the negotiations are going so slowly.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.