“I think we have to really look at these transformative opportunities right now at a time when people are moving to Tacoma, when private capital’s investing in Tacoma … and how do we capitalize on that, both from the public and the private side,” said Aaron Artman, president of the Tacoma Rainiers, whose owner/operator, The Baseball Club of Tacoma, has partnered with Seattle Sounders FC to try to build the stadium. Their joint venture is The Soccer Club of Tacoma.

The proposed Heidelberg Sports Village took a preliminary step forward March 3, when the nine-member Tacoma City Council adopted a resolution authorizing execution of a nonbinding letter of intent (LOI) spelling out conceptual terms for how the $60 million stadium could be funded with public and private money. The stadium is considered the linchpin to securing private investment for the housing and retail components. The city approval, with one “no” vote, followed near-unanimous support in 24 public comments.

Rendering from Heidelberg Sports Village feasibility study.

This rendering shows how the area north of Cheney Stadium, seen in the back, upper right, might look with the soccer stadium, left, fronting South 19th Street; a park, “Supporter’s Green,” right; and a retail/housing/entertainment complex, behind the two and linking Cheney to the new soccer stadium. MultiCare’s proposed sports medicine/healthcare facility is seen attached to the stadium at the upper left. Buildings here are not actual designs, but show general placement for various components of the project.

Supporter’s Green is intended to be a 365-day use public urban park not only utilized during game-day. The open-space lawn can be additionally used for all Tacoma for activities such as farmer’s markets, food-truck gatherings, yoga, other recreation, small concerts, and various multiuse activities, according to the feasibility study for the project. Foss High School is visible in the middle, behind the new development linking the stadia.

Mayor Victoria Woodards stressed the resolution begins the public input and review process. Final approval would come later.

“This is the beginning of the conversation,” to get something on the table to talk to the community about what the city’s commitment could be, hear feedback, and answer questions, Woodards said. She called the project a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” adding that as the community learns more about the project, “I think we’ll be able to get to a place where everyone can see the value in what this means for Tacoma.”

The board of the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma, a party to the LOI with the city and The Soccer Club of Tacoma, voted 4-1 March 9 to authorize the department’s executive director to sign the LOI, meaning negotiations will continue with the city and The Soccer Club of Tacoma.

The city and parks department have land at the site, with Metro Parks wanting to ensure playfields in its existing Heidelberg Davis Park are replaced elsewhere in town, potential sites for which the department is studying separately. The Soccer Club of Tacoma will provide field capacity to offset lost use of the Heidelberg fields until field capacity is restored, and will assist with the long-term solution for field replacement, the LOI says.

The LOI precedes formal development agreements and public input that would be required later to formally launch the plan. The parties still must secure stadium financing and agree on a funding plan, design, development agreement, lease agreement, and other items subject to public review and approval.

Ideally, Artman hopes to get final approvals this summer to break ground on the stadium by fall in time for use in 2022.

Cheney Stadium, home to the Rainiers baseball team, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, is probably the most remote Triple-A baseball stadium as far as activities around it, he said.

If Tacoma can create a mini Wrigleyville, perhaps calling it “Cheneyville,” with housing, bars, restaurants, a team store, and others, it could bring the area to life, Artman said in a February interview.

“The amplification effects of that, I think, will be huge for central Tacoma,” he said, hoping it would spark myriad reinvestments in the area.

Wrigleyville is the neighborhood of bars, restaurants, and shops around Wrigley Field in Chicago, home of the Cubs baseball team. It’s an area that buzzes during games, and its many bars and restaurants fill with locals, even when it’s not baseball season, according to the website for Choose Chicago, the city’s destination marketing organization. Choose Chicago adds that the open-air Gallagher Way outside the stadium is popular among neighbors, fans, and visitors year-round, with events that include farmers markets, an outdoor concert series, film screenings, and a holiday winter wonderland.

Tacoma also can cement its place in professional soccer, build on the sport’s budding momentum here, and inspire youth players if it builds the stadium, according to Artman.

Speakers at the March 3 council meeting included Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey, who said the stadium also could help Puget Sound in a bid to become a site for 2026 World Cup matches.

Other supportive speakers cited National Women’s Soccer League team Reign FC as an inspiration for female athletes, soccer’s ability to unite diverse players and fans, good jobs from stadium construction, the boost to Tacoma’s image, and more.

Janine Terrano, founder and CEO of Topia Technology in Tacoma, backed the stadium, citing an economic impact far exceeding the city’s investment. She also noted The Soccer Club of Tacoma’s commitment to gender, racial, and economic equity in the stadium, adding, “Rather than talking about these issues, they are actually doing something about it.”

Councilman Chris Beale, the lone no vote, praised the project and what it could do for central Tacoma and the region, but is uncomfortable with terms of the LOI in its current form, including the amount of public money involved.

If Heidelberg Sports Village is not built, Tacoma risks possibly losing the Reign — a star member of which includes Megan Rapinoe, who led the U.S. Women’s National Team to a World Cup title last year and was named the Best FIFA Women’s Player of the Year for 2019 — and the men’s team, the Tacoma Defiance, the United Soccer League Championship affiliate of Seattle Sounders and the highest-level affiliate for the Major League Soccer club, Artman said.

“We’re not holding a gun to anyone’s head — that’s not how we operate; that’s not how the Sounders operate — but it’s just a very real possibility,” Artman said in February. “You can’t play soccer in a baseball stadium forever, and it’s not the experience that we should be providing. … Those women deserve to have a stadium that their group can (use to) generate revenue to help them make more money in the future and be treated as the world-class athletes that they are.”

The Tacoma Defiance is owned by The Soccer Club of Tacoma. Front office duties for both the Defiance and the Rainiers are handled at Cheney Stadium. Reign FC was acquired by the French-based Olympique Lyonnais Groupe in December.

Keeping soccer in a converted baseball venue poses long-term uncertainty, Artman said.

“If something doesn’t make sense and there’s other opportunities or a shift in strategy or shifts in the league and what’s allowed, we could be back to just having the Rainiers,” he said. “The Rainiers are great, but we think it’s better for everybody to have three teams versus one playing here in Tacoma.”

The proposed sports village is estimated at roughly $265 million. It includes the 5,000-fixed-seat stadium at $60 million, and about $205 million for a privately funded complex with 520 units of multifamily housing, including affordable housing, and retail between the stadium — an area that’s now a parking lot.

MultiCare is prepared to invest at least $20 million to build a 60,000-square-foot health facility and sports medicine center adjoining the soccer stadium, according to an LOI exhibit.

Stadium financing in the LOI includes $18.5 million from The Soccer Club of Tacoma ($2 million in upfront cash, $16 million through annual debt-service payments), $15 million from the City of Tacoma ($10 million cash invested over up to six years and $5 million of in-kind investments), $7.5 million from Metro Parks Tacoma (upfront cash), and $12 million in New Market Tax Credits. The three parties will seek to identify $7 million in other sources of public investment from other public entities, including the State of Washington.

Where underutilized parking is now, the project would pump millions of dollars into the site “to create housing, which we need in Tacoma; to create more mixed-use retail, which we need near our sports stadiums; and have two more professional sports teams, which I think can have a huge lever on economic development overall for the city,” Artman said.

Images courtesy Tacoma Rainiers, Tacoma Defiance, and Reign FC, all Courtesy Facebook

Cheney improvement

The Baseball Club of Tacoma is investing about $500,000 into the city-owned stadium in new LED lighting that is more efficient and will enhance the fan experience this season. Fans will notice how much brighter the stadium is and how much better the field and players will look. It also will even out lighting for the soccer pitch.

Economic impact

We R Tacoma and food and beverage partner Ivar’s provide close to 350 jobs between year-round and seasonal staff.

Outside the ballpark, nearly 2,300 hotel room stays were booked for baseball players, coaching staffs, and umpires alone in 2019. Over 500 more were booked for the soccer season.

If successful, the private investment in the whole package could be at least 10 times the public investment.

“We think that’s a fair deal for the public, but the elected officials — and the public in general — will have to weigh in,” Artman wrote in an email. “And if there is a will to get it done, politically, we think it would be an incredible project.”

The Soccer Club of Tacoma also has agreed to provide 100 days of free stadium use for community access and youth sports/cultural activities, a value of at least $400,000 annually in lost rent potential, or at least $12 million over 30 years toward the public good, he said.

In an interview in February, Dean Burke, president and CEO of Travel Tacoma — Mt. Rainier Tourism and Sports, said he supported the stadium idea and credited Artman and his group for their work with Cheney Stadium and the Rainiers.

“It’s a really great piece of the community, and now we’re trying to lift that idea, and that same sentiment, and that spirit, and that character into other sports,” Burke said. “And it makes so much sense that that would be soccer. As a region, we’re incredibly strong in the national scene as a soccer community.

“I think it’s a very right size, right fit for our community, and it’s a great package to complement how we consume sports here and how we participate,” Burke said.

He sees the stadium complementing soccer-development programs in communities around Tacoma, hosting tournaments, and perhaps grooming the next professional players.

“We’re rooting for them on this,” he said of the project proponents.