Update: St. Louis Expansion Plans

Yesterday we gave you a look at the status of Philadelphia's expansion plans. Today we are turning the spotlight on the other leading candidate city for the 16th team in MLS: St. Louis.

A group called St. Louis Soccer United is behind the effort to land a franchise in the area. Led by local businessman Jeff Cooper, the group's plan would put a state-of-the-art soccer complex in Collinsville, Illinois, ten minutes from downtown St. Louis, featuring an 18,500-seat stadium.
Other elements of the project:
- 400 acres of mixed-use, new urbanism development
- 300,000 square feet of retail opportunities
- 200,000 square feet of office space
- two 120-room hotels
- 1,200 residential units
- internal bike and walking paths linked to more than 85 miles of scenic trails

According to the group's site, the entire development, including the stadium, is funded through a public/private partnership that was approved by the City of Collinsville on September 10. Groundbreaking at the site, located at Interstates 270 and 55-70, will take place once an MLS expansion franchise has been awarded to St. Louis.

Cooper was awarded a franchise in the new Women's Soccer League, which is scheduled to begin play in 2009. It is also Cooper's vision that the facility would host numerous other events, including World Cup qualifying games, international friendlies, high school tournaments and many other blue chip soccer attractions.

Approximately 10.2% of St. Louis-area residents participate in soccer, compared to a national average of approximately 7.1%. Roughly 1,500 soccer fans have signed up for season tickets, and a fan club has also been established - the Gateway City Supporters Club.

"Any degree of success that the sport of soccer enjoys today in the United States is directly attributable to St. Louis as one of the game's prime movers," said Bill McDermott, ESPN/ABC Soccer Commentator. "Now that MLS has brought a newfound awareness to soccer in our country, it logically follows that St. Louis should play a part."

The only hurdle that seems to be holding back the St. Louis effort revolves around the ownership group.

"MLS would like us to really finalize our ownership group, which we're in the process of doing," said Cooper. "They would like Philadelphia to finalize its stadium deal. Both things will be done in the near future, and both cities will have teams in the league, if I had to read the tea leaves. Whether we start in 2009 or 2010 would be up to the league's discretion."

Commissioner Don Garber echoed those sentiments. "We're bullish about the St. Louis market. It's hard to imagine when you have a strong ownership group, a facility and a market and us not having a team in that market. If Philadelphia comes in, it doesn't preclude St. Louis coming in. Once we make a decision on the 16th team, whether it's Philadelphia or St. Louis, we'll figure out what to do with the market in the next round."

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