Baltimore soccer fans’ dreams of two new outdoor stadiums face serious hurdles, according to a study released Wednesday by the Baltimore Development Corp.
The study, conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority, looked at the feasibility of two projects: A 25,000-seat stadium in Westport for Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, and a 7,000-10,000-seat facility for Crystal Palace Baltimore at a site south of M&T Bank Stadium.
The plan found there were plenty of positives for one, or both soccer stadiums, including having a strong downtown core to serve fans with shopping, dining and easy accessibility from light rail, highway and air. But, the plan also saw formidable weaknesses for the projects, including potentially limited corporate interest in sponsorship or premium seating and the possibility the business model “does not generate sufficient financial return on investment” for a team or teams.
The study said the Westport stadium would see between 49 and 54 events a year, including 17 D.C. United games after the team moved from Washington. The stadium would generate 780 to 940 jobs per year and bring the state revenue upwards of $3 million, according to the study. City tax revenue was estimated to be between $2.3 million and $2.8 million.
A stadium for Crystal Palace would host 60 to 68 events per year, with total attendance between 228,000 and 282,000 per year with total spending between $6.4 and $9.1 million per year. That stadium would generate around 110 jobs and return $288,000 to $404,000 in state tax revenue. City taxes were estimated between $178,000 and $262,000 per year.
D.C. United, which has also looked at possibly moving to a site in Prince George’s County, acknowledged the report and the impact a potential move to Baltimore might have.
“We’re not surprised at the finding that our stadium will drive tens of millions of dollars in new spending each year, attract hundreds of thousands of fans annually, help create hundreds of new jobs and generate millions of dollars of new State and Local tax revenues,” the team said in a prepared statement. “We appreciate the interest that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the City of Baltimore have shown in our team and potential stadium, and will continue our conversations as we work toward the best possible long-term home for D.C. United.”
One of the biggest limiting factors — besides the uncertainty on whether D.C. United would actually move to Baltimore — was the fact the Westport area the stadium would be located in is a planned mixed-use development that is in the very early stages of work.
“One of the findings with the D.C. United plan was it could work at Westport, but only if the development planned for the area can come online,” BDC Vice President Kimberly Clark said.
The plan for Crystal Palace’s stadium had some significant potential weaknesses to it, including the stability of the North American Soccer League and the team. Crystal Palace said on Dec. 3 that it would not be fielding a team for the 2011 season and was severing ties with its sister club, Crystal Palace Football Club, in the U.K. But the club said on its website that it is committed to fielding a team in 2012 and having a place in Baltimore to play.
“We want to be downtown and believe doing so will allow us to better connect to our fans and the City” Pete Medd, part-owner and president of Crystal Palace Baltimore, said in a statement on the site. “We would like to thank our loyal fans who have stuck with us despite not having a place to call home and we are committed to giving them what they deserve and what all of our future fans in Baltimore deserve; a venue that honors their loyalty and commitment to the club.”
Calls to Crystal Palace were not returned.
The report called for the next step to include creating further cost analyses as well as identifying potential funding sources.