The Philadelphia region's chance to get a Major League Soccer team in Delaware County has been cut in half.
Yesterday, the league awarded one of two new franchises to Seattle, leaving investors here in a race with a St. Louis-area group to pull together a funding package and become the league's 16th team.
"We remain excited and focused on trying to get a deal done in Philadelphia," league commissioner Don Garber said from Seattle, but he added that the league would choose the region that finished a deal soonest.
The league hopes for an announcement by the end of the year, but Garber said it might not occur until 2008.
Seattle's strong ownership group and its potential as a "gateway to Asia" appealed to the league, Garber said.
Seattle was always a strong contender, said Charles G. Kopp, an attorney for the investors trying to bring soccer to Chester's waterfront.
He said that Delaware County was still in the running, and that the investors hoped to have a commitment for state funding by the end of the year. Legislative sources say a $20 million contribution to the $115 million stadium project is under consideration.
League officials met with state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) last week, Garber said, and while Pileggi supported the concept of the stadium, he wanted assurance from the league that the project would be a good deal for taxpayers.
"We are confident we can provide a rationale to get support for the funding package," said Garber, who said the deal was not financially workable without it.
"The economics of putting a stadium in Chester are such that . . . the financial deal does not make sense," he said.
Pileggi did not return calls made to his office yesterday.
Part of any state contribution would have to be approved by the legislature.
Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for Gov. Rendell, said that with 12 days left in the legislative session, all the parties would have to "step up to the plate and do their part to make this project happen."
In October, Delaware County officials agreed to put $30 million toward the construction of a stadium. The funding would come from casino revenue, and the county would own the stadium and lease it back to the team.
The league is negotiating with a group of area investors that includes Jay Sugarman of iStar Financial in New York; Wilmington developers Christopher and Robert Buccini and David Pollin; James Nevels, a Swarthmore businessman; and lawyer William Doran.
Their proposed stadium, and additional residential and commercial development for a total of $300 million, would sit on a 12-acre site just south of the Commodore Barry Bridge.
The St. Louis area is known as a hotbed of soccer fans and has a reputation for strong amateur clubs and college teams.
According to St. Louis-area media accounts, a group of investors led by lawyer Jeff Cooper, a former high school soccer player, has put together a $572 million project to lure a Major League Soccer franchise. The project would be in Collinsville, Ill., and include a 18,500-seat stadium, youth soccer fields, and a retail-residential complex.
Not to be outdone, Kopp said more development for the Chester waterfront was already in the works.
A second phase of the project would include an additional $150 million of commercial and residential plans and, possibly, a convention-type center.
Robert Buccini said the combined construction could give Chester a version of the waterfront vibrancy found at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
He added that there would be development on the Chester waterfront regardless of the franchise decision, but that it would be smaller and take "five times longer" to complete without a sports stadium as a catalyst.
"I think if it doesn't work this time, we have had all the fun we can handle," Buccini said.