UPDATE: While nothing is yet official, the Sounders do have a press conference scheduled for Feb. 16 at an undisclosed location where they’re promsing “several impactful organizational updates being shared.” All signs point to the Sounders formally announcing plans to build their new training facility on the Longacres property.
Once considered one of the best training facilities in MLS, Starfire Sports complex now feels like a relic of a previous era, and the Seattle Sounders have long been open about their need to upgrade. They will soon announce their plans to do just that.
The Sounders are currently planning to build a new training facility at the old Longacres Racetrack in Renton, Sounder at Heart has learned. Asked for comment, the Sounders did not confirm those specifics but they did say they will unveil their plans “in the near future.”
“Sounders FC expects to share more details about the club’s long-term plans for its training facility in the near future,” the statement read. “We look forward to revealing this information to our fans and the greater public very soon.”
The Longacres property had been owned by Boeing for many years, and included their commercial airplanes corporate headquarters and formerly housed their state-of-the-art training facilities and full-flight simulators. The property was put on the market in April and recently purchased by Unico Properties.
The entire property is about 150 acres, and includes two large ponds, a 1-mile walking trail and an apple orchard. That’s about three times bigger than Starfire, which includes 12 outdoor fields — including a 3,500-seat stadium — and two more indoor fields.
It is believed that the Sounders will only occupy a relatively small portion of the Longacres property, with much of the rest being developed into housing and retail space. The new facility will almost certainly be ready in time to bolster the potential 2026 World Cup bid, but the earliest it would be ready is probably 2024.
While the exact plans are not yet known, the Sounders are expected to house all team operations there, marking the first time the entire organization has been at one location. That will include lockers and gathering space for the first team, MLS Next Pro and academy players, plus multiple training fields and offices for both soccer and business operations. The Sounders' non-technical staff have been working remotely since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and vacated their Pioneer Square offices last year.
The Longacres property has a rich sporting history. Operating from 1933-1992, it was the longest-running thoroughbred racetrack in the western United States before shuttering. The Longacres Mile handicap was its most notable race, and one that continues to be run at Emerald Downs in Auburn.
The Sounders are obviously more interested in the space’s future after long ago outgrowing Starfire. The Sounders moved into the former Fort Dent property in 2008, where they not only played their final USL season but also established their headquarters as they prepared to enter MLS. After joining MLS, the Sounders kept their front-office staff and players at Starfire but shared business operations and office space with the Seattle Seahawks at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Although the Seahawks maintained their ownership stake, the Sounders brought their business operations in-house in 2014 when they moved into the Pioneer Square offices.
When Starfire opened, it was standard for MLS teams to have just one training field and often didn’t even have a dedicated locker room. Starfire not only had pristine grass fields that could be rotated but a FieldTurf training surface and indoor fields, spacious locker rooms, a film room, offices for technical staff, a weight room, meeting space and a cafeteria.
Starfire — which is owned and operated as a non-profit — is also located in a public space, the former Fort Dent Park. That grants a level of accessibility that is almost unheard of in top-flight soccer. From the very beginning, Sounders training sessions have always been viewable by the public — often drawing dozens or even hundreds of fans — and it's normal for sessions to overlap with youth soccer tournaments. The downside is that players and staff often have to fight for parking spaces and sometimes have to deal with a bit more attention than they’d otherwise prefer.
More than those relatively minor annoyances is that virtually every MLS team has either built a new training facility or significantly upgraded their existing one since the Sounders moved in. Nearly two-thirds of those facilities have been built since 2017, which is also around the time when they started to look more like their European counterparts. Teams are now spending anywhere from $30 million to $90 million on these newer dedicated facilities, whereas Starfire was built for about $14 million and originally designed to serve the larger soccer and softball communities.
Even at the low end of that range, this will be the largest single investment Sounders ownership has ever made in the team. The partnership of Adrian Hanauer, Joe Roth and Drew Carey paid about $30 million for expansion rights in 2007. The team was valued at more than $700 million last year.
Up until now, the Sounders have mostly been able to use existing facilities and haven’t been forced to invest heavily in Starfire. In some ways, they have even allowed Starfire to regress. For instance, when the facility upgraded their weight room last year, the Sounders elected to buy the old equipment and put it in a tent near the locker room, which became a bit of a running joke among players as “the best-kept secret in MLS.”
There had been plans to upgrade the facilities in 2015 along with the launch of the USL team. Those plans were eventually scrapped, though, after they were ultimately deemed more of a band-aid than a real long-term solution. The Sounders continued to explore the possibility of making a more serious investment into Starfire — at one point, they even considered trying to partner with the Seattle Kraken in a dramatic reimagining of the space — but starting with essentially a blank canvass was considered a more prudent path toward getting a world-class facility that could house the team for the next generation.
The new space will surely have a bit more privacy than Starfire, but won’t exactly be inaccessible. Longacres is basically across 405 from Starfire and only about a six-minute drive away. It’s also located on Metro’s RapidRide F Line, which connects it to the Tukwila International Boulevard Link light rail stop and Renton Landing. Although the Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak have limited service, they both have a stop that’s connected to Longacres’ west side.
Nearby the property that was once pitched as a home for the return of the Seattle Supersonics are several hotels, the Interurban and Green River Trails, and a walking bridge that crosses the Green River, connecting the property to the core of Tukwila.
This story was originally published on Jan. 6, 2022.