Community Sports

The quest to bring a professional soccer stadium to Louisville got a big boost this week.

The Louisville Metro Council approved a set of measures to assist in the development of a stadium, retail and office park in the Butchertown neighborhood.

Council members voted to send $30 million in public funds to the project to help buy and prep the land for development. Soccer team owners are set to spend at least $45 million on the stadium and are committed to locking-in some $85 million in additional private investment around the stadium — hotels, restaurants, offices.

City officials will now apply to the state for a tax increment financing district for the project. The incentive package will allow team owners to get a rebate on newly generated state taxes to assist in the financing of the project. The package will also send some newly generated local tax revenue back to Louisville Metro Government — to offset the $30 million investment.

Tim Mulloy, a board member and part owner of the team, said he expects to get final approval for the incentives sometime around May 2018. He expects construction to begin in August.

The deal has been a contentious issue over the past few weeks. Council members have questioned the deal and experts have criticized it.

Mulloy visited WFPL News studios to discuss the development and why he thinks professional soccer is a good fit for Louisville. Listen to our conversation in the player above.

Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

When did you get together and decide pro soccer will work in Louisville?

“The answer is a couple things. This sport’s accessibility to fans, first of all, at the level we are at. Even if we were in the MLS we would still be, in many ways, a cheaper ticket than some college-level sports in our state because those are very high priced and successful. But the growth of soccer in America is in its adolescence. Every city is chasing a team, at some level. And Louisville has always been a good soccer town, we produce good soccer players and we have a good soccer culture. It gave people something else to cheer for.”

What were some of the concerns that you heard that you would implore on the public that that is something we don’t think you should be worried about?

“The myth that we are in to just grab the low hanging fruit, flip this thing and then out we go — that is not why we are in this. We are in it to keep this team here — build a professional sports team here. And it’s going to be something that people are going to be very proud of.”

One aspect of the deal is that the team ownership has to pay back $14.5 million to the city. When do you expect that money to be repaid?

“We have a 20-year time span for that to happen. Of course the stadium lease payments begin when we start to play in 2020, and that’s when the real term of this contract begins. And I think, honestly, by 2030, that’s our own pro forma, that this thing is paid back.”

Across the country, publicly funded stadiums take a lot of heat because taxpayers are on the hook for billions of dollars for football stadiums, baseball stadiums and more. What do you take away from all that and apply here?

“There are probably more examples of what not to do, anymore. We figured out, early on, the economics of these stadiums. They can’t pay the debt service. You have to be able to finance, you have to be able to generate some of the revenue — that’s why we built this real estate project around it.

“If we’re successful enough and we have a chance to go compete for an MLS franchise, at that stage, you’re going to have the kind of money and an investor that can drop another $100 million on stadium, privately. That trend has changed in America. It’s changed for the good. We’ve tried to create a model here that will be a model for the rest of the country.”

You’ll find more of our coverage of the Butchertown development project here.

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

Jacob Ryan is the Metro Affairs reporter for WFPL.