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OPINION: MLS to Sacramento is a Done Deal

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The $7 million “ground-making” event is all but confirmation.    

Joseph de Ocampo

If there were any doubts that Major League Soccer is coming to Sacramento, they can be safely put to bed now.

On what grounds do I make this claim? On the grounds located in the northeast corner of the downtown Railyards where Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Republic FC Chairman & CEO Kevin Nagle, and club officials stood yesterday to announce the “ground-making” of a 14.9 acre plot of land that will almost certainly be host to a 20,000-seat soccer stadium within three years.

Republic FC is calling this “Phase 1” of a plan to have a stadium built in time for the start of the 2020 MLS season. It includes pre-construction work on the stadium site, such as adding and leveling the soil. “Phase 2”—the actual groundbreaking and construction—is “contingent” (notice the air quotes) upon confirmation from the league that it has selected Republic FC as one of the two expansion sides set to join MLS and begin play by the end of this decade.

Phase 1 is set to cost $7 million, which is “fully at-risk” to Republic FC, according to a club spokesperson. SRFC has also hired Turner Construction, the contractor behind the Golden 1 Center, as the club’s stadium construction manager for Phase 1 construction activities. The full construction team for this portion of the process is still being determined and will be announced at a later date.

Republic FC’s investors may have deep pockets, but the money, time, and energy being spent so far is not a trifling amount considering all the parties involved. The $7 million figure doesn’t include all the millions that the ownership group has already invested into stadium pre-development and the MLS bid. On top of all that, there’s also the fact that this isn’t the only proposed development going into The Railyards. As the club’s website reminded everyone:

The beginning of stadium construction also represents another significant milestone for the broader redevelopment of The Railyards. Led by Master Developer Larry Kelley, Downtown Railyard Ventures (DRV) is in the early stages of an ambitious $5.3 billion public-private redevelopment plan that will double the size of downtown Sacramento and add as many as 10,000 residential units, and 6.5 million square feet of commercial space. In addition to the MLS stadium, DRV expects to add additional anchor projects, including an 18-acre medical campus.

Whether or not a sports stadium will be part of this massive and historic undertaking must surely make a significant impact on its planning process. As such, I find it highly unlikely that any of yesterday’s activities would have occurred without some previous agreement from MLS, verbal or otherwise.

To put it another way, Republic FC and MLS are currently like that couple in high school that is always together but denies that they are dating, yet everyone knows they are. The reasons for the denial vary. Sometimes, it’s because one of the two broke up with someone else to be with this person and doesn’t want to hurt their ex’s feelings. Other times, it’s because you’ve given about eight or so teams false hope, but need to keep up the valuation on your $150 million expansion fee. Regardless of the reason, when the couple finally makes it official, no one is surprised.

At the “ground-making” press conference yesterday, Nagle said he has “never been so optimistic” about Sacramento’s chances to be selected by MLS. I’d be pretty optimistic too if I knew what cards the dealer was playing next.

But as the club’s CEO also said at the event, actions speak louder than words and what those actions are saying right now is that MLS to Sacramento is a done deal.