HOUSTON – On the first rainy game day at BBVA Compass Stadium, New England president Brian Bilello toured the new ground searching for ideas.
The conditions weren't great for Texans usually enveloped in humid warmth, but Bilello thought it was a perfect day to take the latest in a series of stadium tours. The deluge allowed him and the accompanying representatives from architecture firm Populous a chance to see how the venue handled substantial amounts of water.
Those mundane observations may not appear relevant at first glance, but they will at some point in the future. Every fact and every situation matters when your club is preparing to design and build a soccer-specific stadium.
“Every year this goes by, it's another year we feel like we're behind,” Bilello said during an interview earlier that day. “We would have like to have built this thing in 2006 [in Somerville, a Boston suburb] and that project didn't work out. I think for us, we recognize where we are at and the urgency of how important the stadium is. We're going after it as quickly as we can.”
It is a long and winding road to travel even when Revolution investor/operators Robert and Jonathan Kraft are prepared to foot most or all of the construction bill and spend seven figures to undertake study after study to facilitate the process. Land is difficult to locate in the right locations and negotiations are fraught with complications in the urban Boston core. The economic downturn over the past few years only made the project more difficult to advance. And it hasn't progressed nearly as far as expected.
Although the intensity and the pace of the negotiations has waxed and waned during the past few years, the specific principles required in a new stadium have never wavered. It has to be a smaller, more intimate ground than the cavernous Gillette Stadium. It has to make economic sense. It has to be located in close proximity to the T, the Boston subway line. And, most importantly, it has to drastically change the current operating calculus.
“When we look at our building and what it means to us, we look at it as an entire shift in terms of the brand, what it represents, the type of crowds we're going to get, the type of people we're going to have in the stadium, and, frankly, the type of impact we're going to have on the entire Boston sports scene,” Bilello said. “We just don't feel like – in Boston with how the city is built and with who lives where geographically – that you can get that impact without being on the T. I think it's just really hard. In other cities, maybe it's OK where you don't have a robust, seven-day a week downtown area where people live, work and play. But I think, in Boston, it doesn't work without it. It's certainly a much more difficult process than building it in the suburbs, but, ultimately, it gets you so much more.”
No hurdle presents a greater challenge than trying to find the proper acreage to build in this highly developed urban area. Somerville remains in the picture with a site in Assembly Square, a parcel located off of Interstate 93 and serviced by a forthcoming stop on the Orange Line. Revere is also in the mix on the site of the now-closed Wonderland dog track, a venue on the Blue Line and perhaps directly tied into a bid to place a casino at Suffolk Downs in a few years' time.
Bilello did not comment on the particulars of any potential venues, but he did later offer a statement that indicated that the club was in preliminary talks with Revere officials. Revere mayor Daniel Rizzo told both the Boston Globe and FOX 25 in recent days that he was in favor of a soccer stadium in his city earlier this week, though a recent report in the Revere Journal suggested at least one city councilor would be opposed to the efforts. A Somerville official also confirmed the existence of preliminary talks on the Assembly Square site to New England Soccer Today on Tuesday.
Those discussions must accelerate quickly to ensure the Revolution completes the stadium project in fairly short order. Bilello said he estimates it will take approximately 18 months to build the stadium once the site is ready to go. That timeframe leaves only a few months to cinch an agreement and bring a stadium on line prior to the 2015 season, but Bilello said the club won't hesitate to start construction once the deal is in place.
“If there's a T stop being built or there's roadwork being done, then that's part of it,” Bilello said. “But I don't think we're looking at anything that is too far out. Everything we're trying to do is 2015, 2016. That would be really ideal for us.”
Ideal remains a concept far off in the distance. For now, the words are merely promises for a better future. Those justifications won't satiate a beleaguered set of supporters displeased with the direction of the team on and off the field over the past few years and skeptical of the Kraft family's intent to move the team out of Gillette Stadium.
Only shovels in the ground somewhere on the T will address those justified skeptics and start the process of closing the significant divide with the rest of MLS. It won't be today or tomorrow, but the hope remains that it will come some day soon. Until that moment finally arrives, it is about continuing the preparations and wading through a few rainy days en route to the ultimate objective.
“It's been a difficult road,” Bilello said. “I'm sure it will continue to be, but we're pretty steadfast that we think it needs to be in the city. That's really all we're pursuing right now.”
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