City may net soccer team
By P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Major League Soccer play would be 'fantastic' for Tulsa, the mayor says
Tulsa is again one of several cities being considered for a Major League Soccer team, Mayor Bill LaFortune confirmed Thursday.
The Tulsa World has learned that a national sports agency that owns a franchise is interested in bringing a team to Tulsa.
"I've always believed an MLS franchise for Tulsa would be a fantastic thing and would be strongly supported by the city," LaFortune said.
The city and soccer league officials have in recent years discussed locating a team in Tulsa. LaFortune said an MLS franchise would be great for the city because it would give Tulsa a major league sports team and enhance economic development.
He said a professional sports team would be another amenity that Tulsa could market to outside companies. It also would help to attract and retain businesses and jobs, "which is very important for Tulsa."
"It's also a fantastic, family oriented sport and league. MLS is a sport which fosters that family friendly atmosphere. It's a perfect fit for Tulsa, which we know is a great place to raise a family," he said.
But, LaFortune said, the city still has the same hurdles that it faced when it was trying
to land a team two years ago, and the competition is stiff among the potential cities that MLS is considering for a franchise.
Other cities under consideration include Philadelphia, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Atlanta, according to an MLS-affiliated Web site.
Last week, Commissioner Don Garber said during the MLS Cup 2005 media luncheon that he expects the future of the Kansas City Wizards and San Jose Earthquakes to be resolved in 30 days.
Some media outlets have reported that the San Jose Earthquakes may relocate to Houston, leaving speculation about where the Kansas City franchise may go.
Potential investors from Tulsa also reportedly were present at the MLS luncheon.
LaFortune said the two strongest requirements Tulsa would have to meet if a franchise were to locate here are local ownership in a team and a soc cer-specific stadium.
He said discussions are under way with a number of potential local investors.
"But that's all they are -- discussions. Nothing is firmed up in any way," LaFortune said. "What's good is that at least we have people engaged in discussion and it's positive."
LaFortune said a soccer-specific stadium is a huge hurdle for the city. He emphasized there would be no attempt to go to the public for funding to build a stadium. But, he said, officials have analyzed funding options including a tax increment financing district.
In August, LaFortune confirmed that there have been serious talks about a proposed redevelopment project downtown that could include a sports stadium.
The proposed multiuse development is being considered in the East Village area. The 115-acre site sits within the Inner Dispersal Loop from Seventh Street to the Burlington Northern rail line between U.S. 75 and Detroit Avenue.
At that time, LaFortune talked about an initial draft of the 2006 third-penny sales tax extension, which included $20 million in infrastructure improvements that would encourage and accelerate development downtown.
LaFortune said Thursday that the $20 million has been removed from the estimated $425 million tax package that will go to voters.
"The removal of those dollars should not be taken as an indication that we would not have potentially some exciting announcements in the future regarding the redevelopment project," he said.
P.J. Lassek 581-8382