Bexar County Commissioners Court on Monday morning approved agreements required for the County and the City to jointly acquire Toyota Field, a penultimate move in an effort to lure the Major League Soccer to San Antonio.
County Judge Nelson Wolff, and Commissioners Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) and Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) voted to authorize the County spending $9 million, which the City is matching, toward purchasing the soccer stadium from local businessman Gordon Hartman, owner of the Scorpions North American Soccer League team. Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez was unable to attend due to scheduling conflict. Commissioner Paul Elizondo did not attend due to illness, Judge Wolff said.
The County also approved creating a Public Facilities Corporation (PFC), an organization involving two representatives each from the County and the City. The City Council voted Dec. 17 to sign off on the City’s part of the Toyota Field deal.
The corporation, which was due to meet later Monday to help finalize the City and County deal, will own and operate Toyota Field. The PFC members will sign a lease agreement with Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SS&E) to lease the stadium for 20 years with yearly payments of $100,000. SS&E is putting in an additional $3 million as part of the overall deal.
The Commissioners Court discussion about the Toyota Field deal was short, yet Judge Wolff was elated that the County could finally complete its part of the bargain with the City and the Spurs ownership group.
A collaboration in the making for two months, it’s an unprecedented public/private partnership that local officials and soccer fans hope will lead to an MLS expansion to San Antonio.
“It’s an extraordinary agreement, something that’s never been done before,” the County judge said prior to the Commissioners Court vote. “The City and County are creating a public finance corporation to enter us into more professional sports.”
“We’re excited about where we are at today,” added Bobby Perez, SS&E’s senior vice president and general counsel for corporate relations.
The total $18 million that the City and the County are spending will go directly to S.O.A.R. (Sports Outdoor and Recreation), Hartman’s nonprofit that owns and operates Toyota Field and nearby Morgan’s Wonderland. The latter, a unique theme park for individuals with special needs, will benefit from the proceeds of the Toyota Field sale. Morgan’s Wonderland has plans to add a water park in 2017.
Additionally, SS&E will contribute $1 million toward improvements at Toyota Field, which will have to be expanded from the current 8,000 capacity to up to 20,000 in order to meet criteria the MLS is seeking in an ideal expansion city.
The County and the City each will provide $500,000 toward upgrades for the adjacent Star Soccer Complex, where number of players taking part in amateur organized soccer is rising.
The MLS intends to expand from 20 to 24 teams by 2020. Now that all stakeholders are putting finishing touches on the Toyota Field deal, Judge Wolff said he is very confident the league will give San Antonio a serious look.
The County judge referred to a previous study done by the county that concluded MLS is the best shot San Antonio has at adding a second major professional sports franchise. He added that Toyota Field is in perfect position to be upgraded, and that having the Spurs ownership group involved gives the MLS pursuit a major boost.
“It’s important that we be ready. If we’re not, we won’t see MLS here for a decade or two,” Judge Wolff added.
Voters will have to consider funding the necessary upgrades to Toyota Field in order for those to move forward. While he could not yet estimate when such a vote would take place, Judge Wolff said in the meantime the City, County and local soccer community must prove to the MLS that there is sustainable support for a major league team.
As the long-term future of the Scorpions has yet to be determined, Judge Wolff asked fans to continue attending Scorpions matches and for more players to take part in amateur soccer locally.
“We will have at least two years of experience building up the fan base” before MLS decides on its next round of expansion, Judge Wolff added.
*Top image: A view of Toyota Field at 5106 David Edwards Dr. Courtesy of the Toyota Field Facebook page.