ORLANDO, Fla. - The president of Major League Soccer was in Orlando
to meet with Orange County commissioners Monday -- the day before a critical vote on a $100 million venue plan that could bring an MLS team to town.
Tuesday, commissioners will vote on a plan that would approve money
that would bring a soccer stadium to Orlando.
MLS president Mark Abbott and Orlando City Soccer team president Phil Rawlins met with commissioners Monday morning to make one last pitch to vote in favor of the plan, which would allocate money toward a new multiuse soccer stadium in downtown.
"I came down to express my support and enthusiasm to the commissioners and let them know this was the last piece of the puzzle that needed to be put in place," Abbott said.
"We have a great story to
tell, and we have a great business case for MLS to come to Orlando, and we are looking forward to the meetings today and the vote tomorrow," said Rawlins.
Some commissioners have expressed concerns about whether an MLS team would be able to fill a stadium and
whether the county should get on board to help fund the $84 million project.
"We feel very confident we would not only fill an 18,000-19,000-seat stadium, but a waiting list for
that, too," Rawlins said.
The MLS has made the soccer-specific stadium a requirement if Orlando City is accepted as an expansion franchise. The team currently plays in the Citrus Bowl.
"The ability to have the right environment; having a
soccer-specific stadium will create an intimate environment for the fans," said Abbott.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russel are the only ones who have
publicly committed to vote yes on the soccer stadium.
That means Abbott still needs to convince at least three more commissioners.
Commissioner Pete Clarke told WFTV that he'd like to see the county get a percentage of the profits in return for fronting the money, like
an investor collecting a royalty.
But Abbott said the answer to that request is no.
"That's not something we do in our league," said Abbott.
Clarke said that after the meeting on Monday, he was leaning more in favor of the stadium than he was before.
The city of Orlando has already approved its contribution toward the project.
Local soccer fan Pierre Michel said he thinks that was a good move by the city.
"Oh, yes. Big time, we need it," said Michel. "We have a lot of soccer player in
Orlando, and we need to be an MLS soccer team."
Money for the stadium is included in a venues package that also includes money for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Channel 9 has learned that Commissioner Fred Brummer plans to make a motion to vote on each venue item separately, so each would pass or fail on its own merits.