Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 news stories for 2014.
The revelation two weeks ago that Sporting Kansas City, Kansas City’s professional soccer franchise, is proposing to develop a soccer training center in Garden City using the state’s STAR Bond program, created major league excitement.
The story is No. 2 on The Telegram’s list of top news stories of 2014.
In November, the city announced it planned to use STAR Bonds — or Sales Tax Revenue Bonds — to assist in developing a future, unnamed project. On Dec. 16, following a public hearing, the Garden City Commission approved an ordinance to create a STAR Bond district on the city’s east side that would use a portion of city and state sales taxes to build a major league soccer training and development facility.
Sporting Kansas City officials indicated the total project is about $100 million to create fields, locker rooms, a stadium, a semi-pro soccer team and other amenities as part of bringing the major league organization’s youth development system to Garden City. STAR Bond financing could make up about $20 million of the package.
The STAR Bond district boundaries cover approximately 312 acres of land from the Tangeman Sports complex northeast to Schulman Crossing, and undeveloped land from the shopping center east to Jennie Barker Road.
The ordinance next needs to be approved by the Kansas Department of Commerce. Over the next four months, Sporting Kansas City will create a detailed project plan, cost-benefit analysis and other analyses for the Department of Commerce and the city to review before STAR Bond financing could be approved for the project.
Korb Maxwell, attorney with the Kansas City firm Polsinelli who is working with the developer, said Garden City is on the cusp of something big and exciting, but tempered the optimism by noting the proposal is at the first stage of a long process. Maxwell said several past projects paved the way for this proposal, however.
“The enormous success this community has seen in the development of Menards, the opening of the power center retail (Schulman Crossing), the work on a hotel, water park and Old Chicago, all of those have set the course for a fantastic STAR Bond project, likely the first and only of its kind in western Kansas,” Maxwell said.
The STAR Bond would be financed using a portion of state and city sales tax generated largely from retail stores at Schulman Crossing and Menards.
Greg Cotton, chief of staff and general counsel for Sporting Kansas City, called the proposal “a true extension of our club into western Kansas,” and one that provides the club visibility and impact in the area, something the club had been talking about for years.
Sporting Kansas City’s proposal generally includes three components: youth soccer, a Premier League semi-pro franchise, and economic development through large, regional tournaments.
Sporting Kansas City has scouted the region, a soccer hot-bed according to Cotton, for the past eight years. The club’s player development strategy is focused on finding and developing local talent, mostly in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Out of the team’s 30-man roster that won the 2013 MLS championship, Cotton said seven players were home-grown talent, including Matt Besler, who played for the United States during the 2014 World Cup.
Sporting Kansas City established an academy in 2007 to identify, train and develop soccer players. It built a facility featuring three fields and a 7,500-square-foot training center that recently was expanded into Swope Park Soccer Village in the Kansas City area, featuring nine full-sized soccer fields and a 4,000-square-foot locker room and classroom extension.
It now has 13 affiliate youth soccer clubs throughout the Midwest. Top players from each affiliate are invited to try out for the Sporting Academy in Kansas City.
“Youth soccer in this area is strong,” Cotton said.
Sporting Kansas City would lend its brand, soccer expertise and curriculum and provide the “best of the best” an opportunity to try out for the organization’s sporting academy. Those who don’t reach a professional level also could benefit.
The project also includes forming a Premier Development League team, essentially a semi-pro team, made up of Garden City and area young men who would compete nationally and internationally against other PDL teams.
Sporting Kansas City proposes building a championship stadium with similar design aesthetics and amenities, albeit on a smaller scale, as its Sporting Park facility, which was named venue and sports facility of the year in 2012 by several trade magazines.
Sporting Kansas City is seeking local participation for the ownership group for the PDL team. It believes local ownership is critical to success.
When completed, the project would bring high level regional and multi-state tournaments to Garden City, perhaps as many as 12 to 14 per year that would draw players and teams from several surrounding states.