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$1.9 billion Raleigh soccer stadium complex an opportunity and challenge, speakers say

North Carolina FC owner discusses new Southeast Raleigh stadium proposal

Steve Malik, owner of the soccer team North Carolina FC, and developer John Kane say they have a new site in downtown Southeast Raleigh for a soccer stadium, that aims to eventually land a franchise in Major League Soccer.
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Steve Malik, owner of the soccer team North Carolina FC, and developer John Kane say they have a new site in downtown Southeast Raleigh for a soccer stadium, that aims to eventually land a franchise in Major League Soccer.

A national planning group evaluating a proposed soccer and entertainment stadium south of downtown Raleigh got a mostly positive reception — and strongly worded caution — Friday morning.

In a room filled with dozens of business and political leaders, state Rep. Yvonne Holley stood up and said the gathering was missing one important group: the people who live near the proposed complex.

“I am a member of that community, and I don’t see many (community) people in the room,” she said. “That’s embarrassing. That’s disheartening. ... You really have to get buy in, and it has to be inclusive. No more coming in and taking over people’s properties.”

Southeast Raleigh has been a great place to live for years, Holley said, but the people who want to transform more than 100 acres along South Saunders Street for the much-discussed Downtown South project have to want to work with the community.

“If you come as a welcoming partner and inclusive, the community will embrace you and it will support it,” she said. “But if you come and put up a few plaques in honor of the history, then that is not going to work.”

Presenters with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) — a nonprofit focused on land-use education and research — said they spent a week interviewing more than 80 stakeholders, including community members, about the proposed stadium and surrounding development.

ULI presented its findings Friday morning and a full report is expected in the next 90 days. The presenters agreed that the project had to be done in coordination with the community and without displacement.

“This is more than a stadium,” said Juanita Hardy, a ULI presenter and with Tiger Management Consulting Group. “We are talking about soccer. That is a piece of it. But it is about transforming a whole area, and it’s about taking everyone along. An obstacle would be not getting on the same page, not having the same vision, not working together. We know that the City of Raleigh is much bigger than that.”

Downtown South

John Kane, CEO of Kane Realty, and Steve Malik, owner of the North Carolina Football Club and NC Courage, want to build a 20,000-seat soccer and entertainment stadium surrounded by a hotel, restaurants, shops and residences — all worth about $1.9 billion.

They have asked Wake County and the city of Raleigh for more than $330 million from the county’s occupancy and prepared food and beverage taxes. Instead, government leaders want to study the proposed project and have said the stadium could compete for a slice of $46.6 million.

The land-use experts were asked by the backers of the Downtown South project to review how the stadium could be funded, who should be in charge and how the overall project could change the community.

One “assignment” given to ULI, for example, was “How best can Downtown South enhance the community, growing job and investment, while retaining its heritage, respecting the residents and avoiding the potential impacts of gentrification?”

If the area is serious about transforming the southern gateway to downtown, the first thing that needs to be done is decide who is in charge of the project, said presenter Tom Murphy, a former Pittsburgh mayor.

“This is not just simply a development,” Murphy said. “It is an opportunity to transform a whole part of Raleigh into a different kind of place creating great value for the citizens.”

In the 1980s, Murphy said he visited Raleigh to learn about the vision it took to create the Research Triangle Park. This could be Raleigh’s chance to create a new vision for the city, he said.

“You are at a crossroads,” he said. “It is your choice whether you want to be timid or bold. Whether you want to think of this as another development and fight about a soccer field or whether you want to talk about transforming this whole part of Raleigh. That is the decision you are facing.”

The Urban Land Institute received $135,000 for its work, the nonprofit said in an email.

“The fee paid is used to cover the costs of the panel assignment and to support and encourage the Institute’s research and educational programs,” Malik said through a spokesman. “The individual panelists are volunteer panelists and were not compensated to provide their recommendations.”

Property values, displacement

ULI’s presentation was held at 9 a.m. at the brand-new Southeast Raleigh YMCA/elementary school, but not near the proposed development.

Afterward, Holley said the conversation has to be brought to the community.

“The property values are going to go up and they are going to be displaced, and that is my fear,” she said. “I don’t want people to be displaced unless they want to be displaced.”

Raleigh, like many cities, needs more affordable housing. The N.C. Housing Coalition defines housing as affordable if families pay no more than 30% of their income on housing and utilities. Nearly one in four households in Wake County pay more than that. More than 55,000 of those households are renters.

Holley is hopeful she was heard, but she said Raleigh and Wake County have not proven themselves yet.

“You can look at the housing crisis,” she said. “They are not doing a good job.”

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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