Delaware County has agreed to spend $30 million for the construction of a soccer stadium on the Chester waterfront, bringing a Major League Soccer franchise closer to the Philadelphia region.
The next big step may be taken in November, when MLS hopes to announce the league's two newest franchises at ceremonies surrounding the championship game in Washington.
Andrew J. Reilly, Delaware County Council chairman, said the $30 million would come from revenue generated by the new slots casino in Chester. A Delaware County Sports Authority would be created to own the stadium and lease it to the soccer team.
The Chester Redevelopment Authority would donate part of the land, south of the Commodore Barry Bridge. The prospective franchisees own 50 acres at the site.
With the agreement, those investors can make a final proposal to MLS, the county said.
The cost of the stadium, including the franchise fee, is expected to be about $150 million, Reilly said.
"This is the county piece, and we are still pursuing the state piece," said Charles G. Kopp, an attorney for the investors group. State aid is crucial to the plan.
The investors are headed by Jay Sugarman, chief executive officer of the New York-based iStar Financial. Also included are Wilmington developers Christopher and Robert Buccini and David Pollin; James Nevels, a Swarthmore businessman and former Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman; and William Doran, a partner at the law firm of Morgan Lewis.
Kopp said that the plan was to have the stadium also function as an entertainment center and that the total cost of the project, including residential and commercial development outside the stadium, would be about $300 million.
MLS has said it plans to expand the league from 13 teams to 15 by the end of the year and has expressed interest in having a franchise in the Philadelphia area.
Yesterday, Mark Abbott, the league's president, said: "This is a very significant event."
The details of the local agreement will be announced Monday.
"At the outset, we had three goals going into the negotiations," Reilly said. The county wanted waterfront access, a plan for development beyond the stadium, and guarantees that the county investment would be secure.
Reilly said the money would come from slots-tax revenue allocated for economic development. In January, Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack opened in Chester.
"That is the news that we have been hoping for," said Bryan James, 34, founding member of the Sons of Ben fan group. "That, combined with good news hopefully from the state."
The Sons of Ben formed last year when there were rumors of a pro team's opening shop in Philadelphia. A nucleus of fans decided to keep the momentum going, and the group has grown to 762 members. The club has commitments for 1,070 season tickets should a team arrive, said James, a financial analyst from Wilmington.
David N. Sciocchetti, the executive director of the Chester Economic Development Authority and part of the negotiating team, said he was "trying not to get too excited" until the agreement was signed next week. The County Council is expected to vote on it Tuesday.
"It will be another significant addition to the waterfront revitalization under way with the Wharf at Rivertown and Harrah's," Sciocchetti said.
"We are really trying to capture as many businesses that we can get here in the city," said Chester Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr. He said he was excited about the possibility of generating construction and permanent jobs and putting vacant land to good use.
"I don't know much about soccer," Butler said, adding that he was more of a basketball fan. "But I'm going to learn."
Eight MLS teams will qualify for the postseason playoffs beginning Thursday and ending with the MLS Cup game Nov. 18 in Washington. A news conference with MLS commissioner Don Garber is scheduled Nov. 16.
Other competitors for an MLS team include Collinsville, Ill., outside St. Louis; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and San Diego. The teams would begin play by 2009 or 2010.