By Kyle McCarthy
Anschutz Entertainment Group embarked on its quest to build the Houston Dynamo organization a soccer-specific stadium so long ago memories strain to recall the crusade's exact origins.
It wasn't quite four score and seven years ago, but it probably feels like it to Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear and the other lingerers from back in the early Aughts. The journey started before the Golden Boy, before the Dynamo, before Houston 1836, before the arrival in Texas in December 2005 and before AEG ever pondered moving the San Jose Earthquakes two time zones east. It offered peaks, valleys and plateaus without offering resolutions. No matter when the end appeared to beckon, the road always continued until the long-awaited conclusion finally arrived yesterday and the horizon brightened for good.
A vote by the Harris County Commissioners Court ended the tumultuous trek on Tuesday. Details and negotiations over the creation of development zones and the terms of the lease remain, but those perfunctory hurdles won't stop what the Dynamo has so persistently sought for all of these years and what the machinery of Houston and Harris County has finally embraced.
Sometime in 2012, the Houston Dynamo will play in a soccer-specific stadium on the eastern outskirts of downtown.
Make no mistake about it: the Dynamo will pay for the privilege of calling a new facility home. In the world of public-private partnerships, this deal veers toward the public good rather than the private gain. While the city of Houston and Harris County will chip in $17.5 million each in infrastructure improvements and land purchases without touching current taxpayer dollars, those significant investments pale in comparison to the Dynamo's $60 million tab to construct its new home without securing ownership of it.
The benefits, however, are worth every penny as the Dynamo plots its future growth.
Robertson Stadium stands between Houston and a place among the MLS upper crust. While the University of Houston football stadium serves its purpose as a temporary venue, it does not offer the Dynamo much upward mobility. The distant location from downtown, the dodgy surface, the limited ancillary revenues and the scheduling restrictions impact the Dynamo on and off the field. Despite those hindrances, Oliver Luck and his management team have carved out a faithful fan base known for its willingness to turn up in numbers, particularly during the playoffs. A new 20,000-to-22,000 seat facility closer to downtown should consolidate and supplement the existing supporters.
The move could also vault the Dynamo into the ideal worlds cultivated in Seattle and Toronto. Finding a ticket for a match at the new Dynamo stadium could prove challenging in a city that loves its football, especially with the new location and the reduced capacity bound to increase demand. The corresponding boost in resources – though certainly mitigated by debt service to some extent – will offer Houston the financial flexibility to challenge the aforementioned duo plus free-spending Los Angeles and New York should it choose to do so.
In order to construct its new palace, Houston conceded some of its flexibility in other areas. Texas Southern University joins as a co-tenant, ensuring football lines and wear and tear throughout the fall. AEG's presence likely guarantees a healthy share of concerts and external events that could also ravage the playing surface. Dates could be squeezed and grass could be squelched, but those annoyances detract little from the significance of the Dynamo's accomplishment and the promise of an increasingly successful future in a more appropriate stadium.
As Kinnear and his players discussed the meandering path to their new home on Tuesday with myfoxhouston.com, they reflected on how the voyage ultimately yielded exactly what they desired. Brian Ching talked about how he was happy to finally have a stadium to call his own, while Mike Chabala discussed how the move cemented the Dynamo's place in Houston's sports landscape. Kinnear, meanwhile, focused on the sacrifices once made and the foundations once laid before reaching his conclusion about the lengthy ordeal.
“And to know this day has come has kind of made the journey all the [more] worthwhile,” Kinnear said.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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