In our ongoing MLS expansion series, this week we sent our roving reporter down to the Alamo to scout out San Antonio FC’s potential expansion proposal. This is the first of many cities we will spotlight to discuss their MLS expansion prospects- don’t worry Tampa, we’ll get to you too.
When thinking of Texas, people (outside of Big Tex) tend to forget about San Antonio. You may have heard of the downtown Riverwalk, the story of the Alamo, or maybe you’ve heard there is a Buc’ees gas station there that is bigger than your local WalMart. Truth is, San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the US (bigger than both Dallas and Austin) and continues to grow rapidly due to a combination of employment growth and the city rapidly annexing as much land as they can into the city limits. Whoever designed San Antonio had a cousin in the asphalt business- it is a maze of long connected highways that provide good connectivity to an endless vista of homes and apartment communities. They already have two concentric beltways around the city, and are probably working on a third.
As such, the historic but semi-tired (and touristy) downtown does not seem like a natural fit for a soccer stadium, especially one that intends to draw fans from the westward sprawl and northern Austin communities. Enter Toyota Field- 15 miles from downtown San Antonio and 65 miles from Austin, directly off the I-35 corridor. The 8,200-seat capacity stadium was built in 2013 for the San Antonio Scorpions (RIP) and is now home to the re-branded San Antonio FC. It is in the center of a large entertainment district parcel with Morgan’s Wonderland (and in spring 2017, Inspiration Island Waterpark) amusement park to the east, a 12-field regional soccer complex to the north, and 11,000-seat Heroes Stadium to the west (hilarious capacity for a high school football stadium, but hey, it’s Texas!). The northern and western sides of the entertainment district are an old quarry with 40-foot walls, which provides a pretty cool ambiance for potential future mixed-use development.
Spurs Sports & Entertainment made a big splash when they jumped into the soccer game by signing a 20-year lease of Toyota Field in November 2015. Widely known as one of the best run organizations in all of sports, they made a significant bet that they would bring MLS soccer to the region within 5 years or suffer a $5M penalty payment to the City of San Antonio/ Bexar County. As a betting man, I know when you put that much cash on the line, you better have a good hand!
In order for SS&E to deliver, they would have to increase the stadium capacity by at least 10K to get to the MLS minimum capacity. Fortunately, Toyota Field was built for a $45M, 3-phase expansion that would basically add an upper deck to bring the stadium to 18K capacity, with 32 suites . The plan is ambitious but absolutely necessary, as the current stadium looks rather small (especially for Texas) when you are actually on the pitch.
So if the stadium is expanded, does the plan work? They certainly have the land, and could probably borrow parking from Heroes Stadium for gameday (though it is somewhat far away and may not be sufficient for a stadium that can only be accessed via car/bus transportation). The adjacent amusement parks in “Wonderland” are complementary, and if SS&E includes a planned mixed-use, urban-style development west of Heroes in their January 31st submission, it will only strengthen their proposal. The location, though not downtown, is optimal for the region.
While I still believe that Sacramento will be Team 25 (I count Beckham FC as #24, even though they are starting to look like #139), San Antonio has a solid plan to grab the #26 spot, as well as a financial incentive to do so. It will take a major stadium expansion, but San Antonio is halfway there compared to many other cities and well-situated to capture a large population of nearby soccer fans all along I-35, deep in the heart of Texas.
Final Note: There is a BBQ place operating out of the gas station directly south of Toyota Field. Moneybags loves BBQ, but opted for The Granary in Pearl District instead (because he’s rich). He would love to know if this gas station has good Texas BBQ though….future MLS expansion spotlight cities, please also leave a comment with the best local BBQ joint in town so that Moneybags can try them on his scouting trips. Bad BBQ = no expansion team.
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