Orlando City to play one season in Citrus Bowl before moving to its new venue
Like New York City FC, MLS expansion team Orlando City announced Monday that it will play its entire inaugural season in temporary digs. But that's where the similarity between the league's 2015 entrants ends.
While NYCFC couldn't put a timeline on its stay at Yankee Stadium, Orlando insisted that it plans to spend only one year at the renovated Citrus Bowl. In 2016, the club intends to kick off in a new, 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium located a few blocks east.
Orlando had hoped to play only half the 2015 campaign at the Citrus Bowl, but a delay in acquiring the remaining piece of land required for the new arena on Church St. forced Monday's announcement.
"When you start moving venues in the middle of a season, it can get difficult," City COO Brett Lashbrook told SI.com. "There's a brand new, $300 million Citrus Bowl less than one mile from our stadium [site]. There are no tenants, no football lines, all these other amenities. Let's just play there. Just make it clean. We now know how to price our season tickets [for 2015] and we don't have to mess with another opening day in the second half of the year. We don't have to worry about season ticket holders getting mad because front row in one stadium isn't front row in the other or because their seats aren't exactly the same. Then, we'll open properly in 2016 with all the pomp and circumstance a new stadium deserves."
Orlando began taking 2015 season ticket despots on Monday. It is playing its fourth and final year in USL Pro at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex while its former home, the Citrus Bowl, is renovated.
Lashbrook said there is no doubt the new MLS stadium will be ready in time for the 2016 season. The delay reportedly is the result of a dispute between the city and the owners of a small church, who originally asked for around $50 million in exchange for a piece of property valued at some $700,000. The city offered twice that figure but was rejected. The church's owners lowered their asking price to $35 million. If negotiations fail, the city will purchase the land through eminent domain.
"There is zero risk that this stadium is not moving forward. We have all the funds secured. We have the vast majority of the parcel of land secured. The final part can be secured by the city. There's just a delay in getting it," Lashbrook said. "The project is 100 percent moving forward."
Less certain is how much funding Orlando will have to work with. The club and architecture firm Populous remain in the design phase in large part because they're waiting to hear from the Florida state government regarding a loophole in the law that grants sales tax rebates to top-tier professional sports franchises.
The law was passed in the 1980s, well before MLS existed, and City is hoping to get the league included. If it's successful, it would mean an additional $30 million in stadium construction funds. That could make the difference between a roof on three sides instead of two, for example, and increase the number of seats. The club and architects should have a decision by May 2.
Populous also designed the homes of the Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City.
The uncertainty is a bit frustrating, but it doesn't match the level of concern in New York and Miami, which lack stadiums, or Atlanta, which will kick off in 2017 on artificial turf in an NFL-sized arena.
"We'll focus on ourselves and we couldn't be more excited about the location we have," Lashbrook said. "We're right in the heart of downtown, right on Church St., next to the Amway Center, bars, entertainment, the new light rail system. I can tell you in all sincerity, I think we have the best stadium location in all of MLS, and I've been to Portland and Seattle and the others."
Two other significant pieces of the club's identity remain in limbo, however. A new logo is coming, but Lashbrook declined to offer too many details.
"We're looking to make an announcement some time this summer," he said. "It will be a new logo that both captures the old and incorporates the new. And it'll be purple!"
As for Orlando's big-name Designated Player target, Lashbrook said, "Every team would love to have Kaká. He is a world-class player. [City majority owner Flavio da Silva] and Kaká have known each other for many years. They have a friendship and a business partnership and he's currently under contract with AC Milan."
The Brazilian playmaker reportedly can get out of his deal this summer -- one year early -- if Milan fails to qualify for the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League. The Rossoneri are 14-11-9 and cannot catch Napoli for Italy's third and final berth.