Officials feel misled by MLS on Orlando stadium

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Orlando’s Major League Soccer team will eventually play its games in a new downtown, soccer-specific stadium, but several Orange County commissioners said Tuesday they felt misled by the MLS after Atlanta was awarded a team that will play in a hybrid football-soccer stadium.

In October, the county commission approved $20 million in tourism taxes to help fund the new $80 million facility that met MLS requirements, which called for 18,000-25,000 seats, a grass playing surface, covered stands and an urban location.

County Commissioner Ted Edwards, who voted against the taxes, said the general understanding among the commission at that time was that Orlando’s Florida Citrus Bowl, which had been Orlando City’s home since 2011 in the third-tier USL Pro League, was too large and not constructed for soccer.

Last month, MLS awarded Atlanta a new franchise, endorsing its plan to play in a $1.2 billion hybrid soccer-NFL stadium with a retractable roof and artificial turf.

Edwards said he believed Atlanta was allowed to pursue a different kind of stadium.

“From what I’m hearing, most of the commissioners were duped. They weren’t provided all of the information,” he said.

Several other commissioners also said they thought playing in the Citrus Bowl, which is undergoing a $200 million renovation, was a nonstarter.

The Citrus Bowl renovation is set to be completed next year, and will be Orlando City’s home for its first MLS season in 2015. Then they are expected to move to the new soccer-specific stadium.

MLS defended Atlanta’s stadium plans, saying the facility can be modified to create a more intimate environment.

“With a soccer stadium capacity of 29,000 fans, Atlanta’s new $1.2 billion stadium fully achieves the league’s initiatives – similar to how Orlando City SC’s new $80 million downtown stadium accomplishes that goal,” the league said.

In a letter to commissioners, Orlando City said the roof technology similar to Atlanta’s was explored for the Citrus Bowl, but was too expensive. Orlando Venues Executive Director Allen Johnson said in an email the roof technology for the Citrus Bowl was estimated at “over $100 million,” which he said was more costly than building a new soccer-specific stadium that could also host other events.

“$20 million is our entire investment … that gets us a whole new stadium and Major League Soccer,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said. “I think it makes a lot of sense. Dollars’ sense and commonsense, to do this as opposed to a $1.2 billion infrastructure that we couldn’t possibly afford.”