Rendell unveils funding plan for Chester soccer stadium

January 31, 2008 1:13:29 PM PST
Gov. Ed Rendell unveiled a $47 million state funding package Thursday to aid in the construction of a soccer stadium on the Chester waterfront, the latest step in an effort to attract a Major League Soccer franchise to the Philadelphia area. Rendell and state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, announced the state aid package a short distance from the site of the planned stadium. In addition to the stadium, the plan calls for offices, stores and housing in the struggling waterfront city.

"I guarantee that Chester will be one of the first class cities in Pennsylvania," Rendell said.

In the state package, $25 million goes toward the stadium and is contingent on MLS awarding a franchise. That money, combined with $30 million committed by Delaware County and the city of Chester, will go toward a planned 18,500-seat stadium on the banks of the Delaware River.

The next step is to persuade the MLS to award a franchise to the area.

Major League Soccer spokesman Dan Courtemanche did not immediately return a message seeking comment. In the past, the MLS has expressed interest in the Philadelphia area.

The St. Louis suburb of Collinsville is also in the running for the expansion team. Earlier this week, the Collinsville city council approved a tax-increment financing plan to fund a stadium.

The planned stadium and hoped-for franchise would be the latest boost for the long-downtrodden city of Chester. A slots casino opened in the city in January as part of a harness racing track.

"This announcement today is more exciting for the city, the county and the region," Pileggi, a former Chester mayor, said Thursday.

Jay Sugarman, chief executive officer of the New York-based iStar Financial, heads the group of investors hoping to get the MLS to award its 16th team to the Philadelphia market. In addition to Sugarman, the investors include the owners of the Wilmington, Del.-based Buccini/Pollin Group, and James Nevels, founder of the Swarthmore Group and former chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

Major League Soccer, founded in 1996, currently has 14 teams. Its newest franchise in San Jose is scheduled to begin play this year and one in Seattle is expected to start play in 2009.