The Garden City Commission approved an ordinance Tuesday 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. The approval followed a public hearing.
On Friday, the city revealed 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. It would include building the state-of-the-art facilities necessary to bring the major league soccer club’s youth development system here, as well as a semi-professional soccer franchise.
The STAR Bond district boundaries cover about 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. Once the go-ahead is received, Sporting Kansas City would then create a detailed project plan, cost-benefit analysis and other analyses for the Kansas 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.
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.
Cotton mentioned the influence of good friends from Garden City, including Leo Prieto and others, who long praised the community. Visits over the years proved that praise correct, according to Cotton.
“You guys are playing chess where others are playing checkers,” Cotton said.
Sporting Kansas City’s proposed project 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 30-man Sporting Kansas City 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 7,500-square-foot training center that was recently expanded into Swope Park Soccer Village, 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 annualy to try out for the Sporting Academy in Kansas City.
“Youth soccer in this area is strong,” Cotton said.
Cotton said Garden City has strong YMCA and recreational soccer programs. Sporting Kansas City would like to partner with those organizations and groups, not take over.
“We wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t strong soccer here. We believe we can lend some rigor on the competitive side,” he said. “What we would bring is a consolidated professionalism of youth soccer, working in conjunction with the existing soccer community to create a true vertically integrated structure to allow young men and women to play at the highest levels.”
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 would also benefit. Cotton noted that many players in their programs receive collegiate scholarship offers. The program is fully vetted by the NCAA, he said. Players who make it into a sporting academy affiliate retain full college eligibility.
The second component of the project involves 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.
“It’s an opportunity for local young men when they graduate from the program to play at a very, very high level, and continue to showcase their ability to collegiate scouts and professional scouts,” Cotton said.
Cotton said Sporting Kansas City is seeking local participation for the ownership group for the PDL team, and believe local ownership is critical to success.
Third, Cotton said the project, when completed, would bring high-level regional and multi-state tournaments to Garden City, perhaps as many as 12 to 14 per year, which would draw players and teams from several surrounding states.
“This is an important step in the development of a soccer player to play in very high-level competitions, and have the opportunity to showcase talent,” he said.
As part of the process, Cotton said the city will be provided detailed analysis of projected economic benefits to the community.
People who spoke during Tuesday’s hearing were universally excited and supportive of the project.
Shannon Dick, representing a coalition of recreational sports groups in Garden City, said the groups are excited about the news. Dick himself was wearing some Sporting Kansas City gear.
“We were going to call ourselves Sporting Garden City, but looks like we’ll have to change that,” Dick said to some laughter. “We are very excited about it, and the coalition fully supports this project.”
Eloy Gallegos, a local attorney who grew up in Garden City and played college soccer in southwest Kansas, emphasized the popularity of soccer, not only in Garden City, but throughout the area.
“This has been a long time coming. To see this coming forward, it’s a beautiful thing,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos said he had the chance to work with Cotton when the club was the Kansas City Wizards and remembers talking about what was going on back home. Gallegos pointed out that just this past weekend, there were soccer tournaments going on in Dodge City and Garden City that included teams from Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and eastern Kansas to name a few.
“Individuals are coming to Garden City to play soccer. Soccer out here has become very competitive,” he said, noting that Liberal has won the 5A state championship several times in recent years, and Garden City has consistently won its regional going back to 2002.
Jerry Ortiz, a former member of the Garden City Recreation Commission board, said the project is “100 percent” positive for the community and beneficial for Garden City’s youth.
“Nothing but good is going to come of this program,” Ortiz said.
Representatives of the Finney County Economic Development Corp. and the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce expressed excitement about the proposal and its positive impact on the community.
“It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. It will really feed off the local businesses here in town, and just help everybody grow. We’ve added several hotels, and it will help them, as well,” Steve Dyer, Chamber president, said.