UPDATE: The Tacoma Rainiers announced this week that they had "dissolved their operating partnership as the Rainiers turn their attention to other major endeavors," seemingly clearing the way for an expanded relationship with the Sounders.
Editor's note: This story was first published on April 8, 2016. Ever since the Seattle Sounders made the decision to house their USL team at Starfire Sports Complex, it was one born of convenience more than anything else. The first team and the academy were already based there and the Sounders knew the stadium would at least work.
But it was never an ideal scenario. Before settling on Starfire, the Sounders had openly acknowledged looking at options in Spokane, Everett and even Boise. And there was never really much doubt that if they had their way, they'd put the team in Tacoma and let the local Triple-A baseball team run most of the business part of the organization.
The sticking point then was that there was no where to play, as neither party was particularly enamored with the idea of sharing Cheney Stadium. So when Rainiers president Aaron Artman called Adrian Hanauer with a proposal that could very well include a soccer-specific stadium, it was hardly a surprise that the Sounders owner jumped at the opportunity.
On Friday, that partnership was made public. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but this is a basic framework of what we now know:
What's the timeline on this project?
Artman said they hope to have the framework finalized sometime in the next 12 months, but that even if everything goes perfect there's only a small chance a stadium could be hosting games before 2019.
Is this actually going to happen?
These are very early days, but this sounded pretty serious. Artman said the latest conversations were kickstarted when Metro Parks Tacoma -- the city's parks-and-rec department -- approached him about helping get a soccer complex built. The parks department apparently feels there's a lack of soccer fields in Pierce County and think a complex with a USL stadium as a centerpiece could help fill that void.
But when a government entity is leading the charge, that's usually a pretty good sign something will get done.
Does that mean public money will be used?
It's way too early to know how much of this might be publicly funded, but it seems safe to say that some public money will be used at least in the building of the larger soccer complex.
How much would a stadium cost?
Cheney Stadium cost about $30 million to remodel in 2011. Pittsburgh's Highmark Stadium -- a pretty good model for a Tacoma stadium -- cost about $10 million to build in 2013. A budget somewhere between those numbers seems like a fair estimation.
Where would they put it?
Finding an appropriate piece of land will surely be one of the more significant challenges, but Artman said his preference is to have it somewhere near Cheney Stadium or near a population center, like downtown. Metro Parks is apparently in the process of doing a feasibility study and is leading the way on finding a location.
What's the Rainiers' interest in running a soccer team?
Presumably they see some business upside, and they seem to see it as not so different than running a Triple-A baseball team. It should also be said that they did a great job putting some life into the Tacoma Stars' presentation this year, helping them draw solid numbers in their first full year at Kent's ShoWare Center.
What do the Sounders get out of this?
Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer seems perfectly happy to get out of the running-a-minor-league-soccer-team business, and this would allow the Sounders to focus their USL efforts entirely on player development. It's worth noting Hanauer has been pretty open about the fact they are losing about $1 million to 1.5 million per year running S2. This would probably help alleviate that somewhat, or at least free them up from worrying about it too much. Moving to Tacoma would also allow the Sounders to extend their brand to the South Sound in a way they can't really do now.
Hanauer called the proximity for player development and the distance just outside Seattle's core market "the best of both worlds."
How does this affect the Sounders Community Trust?
In the short term, it doesn't. The Trust still has its first town-hall meeting on April 16, is still going to have elections and will eventually finalize a memorandum of understanding that codifies their role in ownership. If a deal gets made, the Trust's future will be a bit more fuzzy, but Artman seemed perfectly comfortable with the idea of having fans involved in ownership.
Where does this leave Starfire?
The Sounders are going to continue to train there and use it as their home base and the Tacoma situation won't really have much effect on that. As was when the Sounders' decided to refund the "Founders Club" funds, they are still exploring a potential future outside of Starfire but that's a separate issue from this. In the meantime, we can probably assume the Sounders won't be investing much money into the facility until they've figured out where they want to be for the long term.
Will S2 rebrand if they move?
Definitely something that's up for discussion and it would make a ton of sense. S2, like playing at Starfire, is a name born of convenience and a move to Tacoma would be a great excuse for a whole rethinking of the team's identity.
Would Sounders play Open Cup games in Tacoma?
Another thing that is apparently up for discussion. Moving games there would probably be a bit more controversial than moving S2, but it could certainly work if done right.
Is this place going to have grass?
It wasn't ruled out, but that's probably a decision that won't get made until we're much closer to ground being broken.
How should I feel about this?
If you're a Sounders fan on the south side of Seattle, this is probably really good news. If you're a Sounders fan commuting from the east side or north of Seattle, this is probably going to make it harder for you to get to games. For the vast majority of Sounders fans who weren't attending S2 games anyway, it's going to be in the details. From a broad view this seems like a move that will strengthen the organization.