By John Larson
Soccer could have a home in a modern stadium within a few years. Last year, the Seattle Sounders reached a deal with the Tacoma Rainiers, the AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, to have the Sounders’ minor league affiliate play their home games in Cheney Stadium. Earlier this year, the Seattle Reign professional women’s soccer team held a press conference to announce they would begin playing their home games at Cheney this season. At that same event, a new name was announced for the men’s minor league team, Tacoma Defiance, selected from monikers submitted. The women’s team is now called Reign FC. The Tacoma Rainiers have formed a business partnership with the soccer teams, called Soccer Club of Tacoma.
They hired Populous, a consulting firm based in Kansas City, to do a feasibility study on a possible stadium at the Heidelberg site along South 19th Street next to the Metro Parks headquarters. Populous has worked on numerous major stadium projects around the world. On June 9, employees of the firm presented their findings to a joint study session of Tacoma City Council and Metro Parks Commission.
The firm examined three topics: a soccer stadium for the Defiance and Reign, a complex of fields for youth soccer and baseball/fastpitch, and a mixed-use development between the soccer stadium and Cheney Stadium.
Populous found strong support for the Defiance, with the long-term viability of professional soccer in Tacoma dependent on building a soccer-specific stadium. Surveys found 80 percent of respondents have a positive attitude for a new stadium, with 84 percent stating they would be interested in attending matches. The assessment determined attendance for the Defiance of 67,458 fans a year for 17 regular season games and two special games. Another 36,000 are projected to attend 12 Reign games. It would draw some smaller numbers of people for conferences and other events. The stadium would have 5,000 seats, with another 500 people standing or sitting on a grass berm. The capacity for concerts is estimated at 9,000. It would have 10 luxury seats of 16 seats each, as well as 470 club seats.
Kevin Fast, senior architect and senior principal with Populous, gave a Powerpoint presentation to the elected officials and staff. Fast joined Populous in 1989 and specializes in college stadium project management. Among his high-profile projects is TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota. The 50,000-seat stadium opened 10 years ago.
HR&A, a consulting firm based in New York City, studied the mixed-use development. It determined the multifamily housing market in Tacoma is gaining momentum, and this site has the potential to capture a share of this market. It offered two options. Phase A would have 345,000 square feet, with 283 residential units, 705 parking spaces and 70,000 square feet of retail space. Phase B would be 230,000 square feet, with 237 residential units and 355 parking spaces. Phase A is their preferred option. No developers or retailers are lined up yet, although MultiCare has announced its interest in building a sports medicine clinic on this site.
A study done in 2016 by Metro Parks and Tacoma Public Schools identified a need for a soccer complex with six to eight fields. Out of 81 existing fields, only 19 are considered high quality enough for routine use. A majority of the fields are grass, have limited maintenance and inadequate drainage. “These fields get a lot of use,” Fast observed.
The soccer complex could be located next to the stadium. Other sites that were studied are Tacoma City Landfill, Meadow Park Golf Course, Mount Tahoma High School and Tacoma Community College. The estimated cost would be just under $35 million.
While no decision has yet been made, Fast said the TCC site has some advantages. “We like the closeness between this and the Heidelberg site,” he remarked. Councilmember Anders Ibsen noted there are wetlands at TCC. There were two options for TCC, with the preferred option being one with the fields in the northeast corner of campus, adjacent to the college baseball stadium. Fast said this option is preferred as most of the wetlands are in the southeast corner of the campus.
Councilmember Ryan Mello asked about Cheney Stadium as a suitable home for soccer. Fast said it is not sustainable long term. “The current complex is highly underutilized,” Mello remarked.
Tacoma Rainiers President Aaron Artman said the Sounders have been contributing funds to pay for the cost of converting the field from baseball to soccer and back.
“This sounds like it is going to be very expensive,” Councilmember Chris Beale remarked. “A lot of times stadium construction projects can be construed as corporate welfare.”
Mayor Victoria Woodards and several council members expressed their interest in seeing affordable housing as part of the project. Woodards, who worked in the Rainiers front office prior to being elected mayor, praised the current ownership of the team and their new soccer partners. “You have brought life and passion back to Cheney Stadium,” she said. “I am really excited about this project and what it can do for Tacoma.”