A lot has transpired in San Antonio over the last several weeks. As was expected, the joint city/county study on professional sports was released several weeks ago. The San Antonio Express and particularly writer Richard Oliver have been all over this story and doing an excellent job of digging through the sound bites and getting to the core issues.
The last post IMS made concerning this issue was in late January. Since then the joint city/county pro sports study came back with their findings. It wasn’t good for Gordon Hartman or Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SS&E), although it seemed more detrimental to Hartman’s Scorpions, who are scheduled to play in the NASL in 2012 as an expansion team. SS&E own a USL PRO franchise that they would like to see up in running in that same year.
Hartman has said all along he planned to take all profits from his pro soccer team and have them pay for the costs incurred by his special needs theme park called Morgan’s Wonderland. Hartman has plans to build a stadium for the Scorpions on property he already owns at STAR Soccer complex south of the city. The former real estate developer was looking for $8 million ($4 million each from the city and county) in public financing to build the stadium. He claims to have $11.5 million in private donations of the $17 million Hartman needs to get the project started.
On February 4, the staff of the San Antonio Express met with city and county officials concerning the joint feasibility study. They told the newspaper it was doubtful they would be investing in minor league soccer due to the findings of that report which said only one minor league soccer team in North American is currently making a profit.
“Professional soccer teams are not going to make enough to support themselves, let alone a special-needs park,” said Michael Sculley, director of the Bexar County community venues program office.
Days earlier County Judge Nelson Wolf had stated that Hartman could not eliminate two youth soccer fields at his STAR Soccer complex to build his stadium. He had noted that the STAR facility was built with other financing from the county that stated those fields had to be used for youth programs.
“What jumps out at you in this study is the fact that whether it’s the NASL or the USL or the others, they don’t make any money,” Wolff said. “And that’s a concern.”
Wolf said he told Hartman that perhaps he should first play games at an existing facility to determine if he team could make the profit he’s projecting. But Hartman said that idea is a non-starter since his projections are based on owning his own stadium which he claims must happen if he is to see those projected revenues.
The Express reported on February 15 that the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) had agreed to explore a relationship with SS&E who want to use the district’s Alamo Stadium for their USL PRO team. Some members of SAISD had gone on record saying they believed a partnership could cut costs for the district who are cash-strapped as are most school districts across the country.
The city of San Antonio had previously approved a large bond that would renovate the 70-year-old 22,000 seat stadium. It’s believe that SS&E would like to control the venue using it for pro soccer but would also bring other events into the stadium.
Hartman is continuing to pursue public money for his stadium. But recently he’s said he may have to look for private investors to get the job done. He also said that he would not be interested in following that avenue unless there was a mechanism to sustain Morgan’s Wonderland. While Hartman has always been upfront in saying supporting the theme park was his only reason for owning a pro soccer team, his comment in regard to sustaining the theme park may be getting closer to what this is about.
Sources close to the situation in San Antonio are now saying that Hartman is actually looking for a mechanism to refinance Morgan’s Wonderland and the Stadium was the vehicle to get him there. The theme park that opened in April of ’10 has been far more expensive than Hartman had anticipated and he’s been losing money at a very high rate. In fact the SA Express states in their article that the 25-acre park and soccer complex, originally pitched to cost just more than $13 million, were finished last year at a price tag of about $34 million.
In a report on January, 17, Hartman told Josh Baugh of the San Antonio Express that if he cannot find the financing to build his stadium he may have to look to other options to fund Morgan’s Wonderland. He told Baugh alternative forms of financing could mean he would have to sell his team. That’s a task that may not be so easy being the team has never played a game or signed a player contract.
“I think the potential for ‘Soccer for a Cause’ is viable,” said Hartman. “We have so much momentum and desire to pull this off.”