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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
The president and CEO of the Columbus Foundation is pitching a Downtown site for a 21,000-seat soccer stadium aimed at keeping Crew SC in Columbus.
The proposal by Doug Kridler places the new stadium between North 5th and 6th streets just north of Mount Vernon Avenue, near the BalletMet building. The site, just south of I-670, is a parking lot now owned by Abbott Manufacturing (Abbott Laboratories).
Kridler had not talked yet with civic and business leaders about the idea. He said the unveiling of his proposal was timed to correspond with Tuesday's MLS playoff game at Mapfre Stadium between the Crew and Toronto FC. He hopes it will spark conversation and show local people, Crew management and and the national media that the city isn't giving up.
But questions and reservations quickly emerged. Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady said commissioners would not consider extending part of a temporary county sales tax to help pay for the proposal, one of Kridler's ideas.
Also, is the site big enough? Mapfre Stadium sits on 15 acres, not including parking. According to the Franklin County auditor's website, it appears the site Kridler is eyeing is roughly 17 acres.
Here's how Kridler would pay for it: He proposes that the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. purchase a 6-month option on the site for $500,000. The Columbus Foundation would consider a grant to the development corporation to cover the cost.
Whether or not the land is purchased, at the end of six months, Abbott would donate half the option price to the nutrition program at Columbus State's new culinary school.
During the option period:
* Franklin County would consider allocating one-half of the quarter-cent sales tax set to expire on Jan. 1, 2019, for a period of three years -- which O'Grady said won't fly.
* The city of Columbus would consider a funding mechanism to build structured parking and other site improvements.
* The state would appropriate $5 million for a new home at the stadium site for the Columbus Children's Theater.
* BrewDog brewery, a #SaveTheCrew supporter, would lead a crowdfunding campaign to purchase 10 percent of the team.
* Precourt Sports Ventures, which owns the team, would commit to cover the cost of the stadium not covered by the one-eighth of a penny sales tax over three years. Based on what the county has said that tax now raises, it would generate about $90 million for the stadium. Kridler also wants the business community to boost season-ticket sales by 4,000 by 2020. Season-ticket sales run at about 10,000 now.
"While this has not been vetted, or run through the traps, hopefully this will allow the national media to say, 'Well, there are ideas floating out there ... ideas that have some merit," Kridler said.
"It is helpful to use our most-creative selves to seeking solutions to complex problems," he said.
In his pitch, Kridler proposes linking the new stadium with the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Nationwide Arena and Huntington Park stadium along Mount Vernon Avenue and Nationwide Boulevard on what he would call the Avenue of Champions. The area around the proposed site is an up-and-coming area with new development that includes restaurants, a brewery and housing.
On Oct. 17, Precourt Sports Ventures announced that it would consider relocating the team to Austin, Texas, after the 2018 season if a Downtown stadium is not built in Columbus.
Last Wednesday, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer went to New York to meet with Columbus Crew SC operator-investor Anthony Precourt and MLS Commissioner Don Garber to see what could be done to keep the Crew in Columbus.
After the meeting, a statement from Precourt Sports Ventures said there was a lack of an "actionable plan and a legitimate offer" from Ginther and Fischer to keep the Crew in Columbus for the long term. It also said the city would not communicate with the ownership group beyond Nov. 15.
Fischer would not comment Monday on Kridler's ideas, nor would Columbus Development Director Steve Schoeny.
Robin Davis, a spokeswoman for Ginther, said the mayor is willing and able to explore opportunities. "But MLS and Mr. Precourt are not willing to enter negotiations like that," she said.
Columbus City Council President Zach Klein said he expects Kridler's proposal to spark discussion.
"The city stands ready to do everything reasonably possible to support them and the Crew," Klein said.
But O'Grady said that if Kridler had spoken to anyone at the county, he would have discovered the sales tax idea "is not a possibility" because of other commitments to the community.
Precourt Sports Ventures responded to the Kridler proposal in a statement issued by a spokesperson and provided to The Dispatch through Tim Miller, director of communications for the Crew: "As Precourt Sports Ventures noted in its statement following a meeting in New York City on November 15, Columbus Crew SC is focused on its quest to win MLS Cup but PSV remains open to productive dialogue."
Precourt and Garber have cited weak attendance, a lack of corporate support and an aging Mapfre Stadium as reasons to move the team.
The Crew plays Toronto FC at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mapfre Stadium in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals. The game is sold out.
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