The proposed 20,000-seat, $115 million soccer stadium on Chester's riverfront would generate jobs and give a big assist to a city trying to score its own economic comeback, investors and city and Delaware County officials promised yesterday.
But the clock is ticking when it comes to realizing that goal, Gov. Rendell warned.
Investors and Delaware County officials showed off renderings of a sleek-looking stadium and outlined terms of the county's $30 million commitment during a news conference in Media yesterday.
This step, first reported Saturday, is only one in a series that must be taken before a Major League Soccer franchise is awarded to the Philadelphia region. For starters, the $155 million project, including about $30 million in MLS franchise fees, hinges on crucial state aid.
Yesterday, Rendell said it was up to the state Senate, which is considering his request for a $500 million statewide capital-redevelopment assistance program. Passing it will require raising the debt limit, and it is unclear that the Senate will act on that this year.
"Without that, the project will fall," he said in response to questions following a Harleysville event he attended.
Approval from the Senate needs to come sooner than later, Rendell said. MLS officials have told him that "time is running out," he said. "Hopefully, the Senate will act before it's too late."
In Media, spirits were high as Chester City and Delaware County officials praised the agreement to spend $30 million on the stadium, which would come from Chester's slots casino revenue. Delaware County Council will vote on the terms of the agreement today.
"This is going to carve out a new chapter," said Chester Mayor Wendell Butler, who described the stadium deal as "phenomenal."
"It doesn't get any better than this," he said.
Investors will now make a final proposal to MLS in the next few days. The league has said it plans to expand from 13 teams to 15 by the end of the year. Several other cities also are under consideration. An announcement is expected next month, just around the time of the soccer league's championship in Washington on Nov. 18.
The stadium would be built on a 12-acre site south of the Commodore Barry Bridge, said Andrew J. Reilly, Delaware County Council chairman. It would take about 18 months to construct, requiring about one million hours of labor and 1,000 workers at the site.
A few members of the building trades held signs in support of the project. "Soccer=Jobs," read one. County officials say the stadium would generate 360 full-time jobs. Under the plans unveiled yesterday, fans would be able to enter the stadium directly from the waterfront. A ramp off the Commodore Barry Bridge would provide motorists direct access.
If all goes well, the stadium could open in 2010, said Reilly. A proposed Delaware County Sports Authority would own the stadium and land, he said. The terms of agreement, he said, require the franchise to play at the stadium for at least 10 years.
The stadium would anchor an additional $400 million development project that would include a mix of retail, office and residential construction.
The stadium deal would cut the timeline for the additional development from more than seven years to three, said Robert Buccini, a Wilmington developer and one of the franchise investors. He envisioned a day when people could walk along the river to shop in stores and eat at restaurants before catching a soccer match. "We're very close," he said.
Officials emphasized that the project would bolster services to the community.
"This is a historic day," said investor James Nevels, a Swarthmore businessman and former Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman.
He said the franchise would be "the community's team." The stadium would be used for more than soccer games, Nevels said. Concerts, football games or a high school graduation ceremonies could be held there, as well as community events.
While the franchise is yet to be awarded and a name for the team yet to be given, there is already a fan club.
In the audience, about a dozen members of the club - known as Sons of Ben - sported blue and yellow scarves, emulating a tradition among European soccer fans to thus display team colors.
Bryan James, founder and president of the more-than-780-member group, said the facility, as rendered, would easily be the "best-looking stadium in the league."