Friday, May 25, 2007
MLS return to San Jose edges closer
Jeff Carlisle, ESPNsoccernet
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In May of 2006, Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff and business partner John Fisher purchased an option to bring a Major League Soccer franchise back to the Bay Area. One year later, that goal is close to becoming a reality. Wolff and MLS are in negotiations to revive the Earthquakes franchise to begin play in 2008. The agreement could be reached even without a soccer-specific stadium, a source with knowledge of the deal has confirmed to ESPN.com. No agreement has been signed as of yet, but Wolff met with MLS Commissioner Don Garber in New York last week, and the source confirmed that both sides are eager to move forward. The league is eager to add a 14th team so it can get rid of the unbalanced schedule that is currently in place. Wolff is hoping that by having a team up and running, it will be easier to get a soccer-specific stadium built in the Bay Area. When asked to comment, David Alioto, executive vice president of Earthquakes Soccer LLC would only say, "We continue to try to work for a soccer-specific stadium, and we're continuing to try and get on the field as soon as possible."MLS officials could not be reached for comment. The move is a departure from Wolff's original option with the league, which stated that a soccer-specific stadium had to be in place in order for the franchise to be granted. That requirement now appears to have been removed, although where the team would play while a stadium is being built is uncertain. Spartan Stadium, which the MLS version of the Earthquakes called home from 1996 until the team left for Houston after the 2005 season, is not considered to be an option at this point. That would appear to leave newly refurbished Stanford Stadium and McAfee Coliseum (which is owned in part by the city of Oakland and in part by Alameda County) as the most logical destinations, although at this point, no decision has been made. As for where a new stadium might be built, Wolff has cast a wide net, even going so far as to begin talks with Placer County officials (in suburban Sacramento) about a new sports complex. But lately, Wolff has been focusing his efforts on a 75-acre parcel of city-owned land near the San Jose airport. A city ordinance stipulates that any purchase or leasing of the land must be done at market rates, and any handout on the part of the city would have to be put to the voters of San Jose, something that Wolff has said he is keen to avoid. The next step in the process is a San Jose City Council meeting that will occur on June 12. At that meeting City Manager Les White will divulge the discussions that the city has been having with Wolff, but no official vote will take place on the stadium proposal. Regardless of how well Wolff's proposal is received, a bigger obstacle remains. In order to finance the deal to acquire the lot that the stadium would be built on, Wolff will need to obtain a zoning change from the city of San Jose on a separate 74-acre parcel of land in the city's Edenvale district. The Edenvale property is currently zoned as industrial and a change to residential or retail status would significantly increase the land's value. The plan is for Wolff to sell the Edenvale property once it has been rezoned, and then use the profits to acquire the stadium site and finance its construction.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.