[HOUSTON] Anybody who watched the second leg of the Western Conference final between Houston and Seattle at Robertson Stadium last fall knows why the Dynamo needs its own stadium. Sounders midfielder Freddie Ljungberg disdainfully called the field a “sandbox.” When asked if the surface was at its worst on that day, a member of the Dynamo organization replied, “It’s always bad, maybe not that terrible, but bad.”
The final piece for a Dynamo stadium located near downtown Houston fell into place Tuesday when the Harris County Commissioners Court approved a deal by which the county will contribute $17.5 million to a project estimated to cost $95 million. Last week, the Houston City Council agreed to pay an equal amount, with the Dynamo ownership – a joint operation of Anschutz Entertainment Group and a consortium headed by boxer Oscar De La Hoya and business partner Gabriel Brener – kicking in $60 million.
“This is a very important day,” Dynamo president/general manager Oliver Luck told mlssoccer.com. Before joining the Dynamo, Luck was CEO of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, which will manage stadium operations. “This process has been going on for a number of months, and there is now a framework to go forward. This is a great day for folks in the East End, for folks who care about future development in the city, for soccer fans, and for Dynamo fans.”
Still to be negotiated is a lease agreement between the Dynamo and the Sports Authority, which runs Minute Maid Park (MLB Astros), Reliant Stadium (NFL Texans) and Toyota Center (NBA Rockets). The city and county must also formally approve the creation of redevelopment zones by which future increases in tax receipts in those zones will pay off some of the project’s costs. The city and county will co-own the stadium and the surrounding land, which is on the eastern edge of downtown Houston, near Minute Maid Park.
The county will pay $10 million in redevelopment zone tax revenues to the project and reimburse the city one-half of the $15 million paid for the parcels of land where the stadium will be built.
Construction is scheduled to begin in October and be completed in time for the opening of the MLS season in 2012. The Dynamo would still share a facility, as it now does at Robertson with the University of Houston football team, as home games for Texas Southern University would be played there. But the Dyanmo would be the primary tenant and control elements such as maintenance as well as receive a majority share of revenues.
Critics of the deal point to debt-service payments for renovations of the Astrodome that the county is still paying off. That facility lost its two major tenants, the NFL Oilers (1996) and Astros (1999), more than a decade ago, yet debt payments will continue for the next two decades. Homeowners have cited concerns about congestion and declining property values.
The agreement comes more than two years after De La Hoya and Brener bought a half-share of the Dynamo, which moved to Houston from San Jose at the behest of AEG after the 2005 season. Efforts to kick-start a stadium project ran into political tangles: former Mayor Bill White adamantly opposed the use of any of the city’s general-fund money, and his attempts to persuade investment by the county stalled. Upon taking office in January, Mayor Annise Parker initiated meetings with Commissioners Court members to revive the project.