RENTON, Wash. — As the Seattle Sounders prepare to start their 14th MLS season, there should be no doubt that they are considered one of the league’s aspirational clubs. In that time, no team has claimed more points, won more trophies or drawn more fans.
But majority owner Adrian Hanauer has often talked about a nagging sense that for all the Sounders’ accomplishments, they never really had a proper home.
For all of Lumen Field’s obvious positive attributes, the Sounders are very obviously a tenant in someone else’s building. Similarly, Starfire Sports Complex has served the Sounders very well, but is also a shared facility that has been lapped several times over by most other MLS teams’ facilities.
The newly unveiled plans for Sounders FC Center at Longacres will most definitely change that.
“For sure this will be a gold standard, but this league has really evolved since we entered in 2009,” Hanauer said. “I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as an arm’s race, but there is a lot of investment going into infrastructure. And we want to lead wherever possible.”
Although the Sounders didn’t share exactly how much they’re prepared to spend on the new facility, it will almost surely be the single-biggest investment ownership has made. The Sounders will occupy just part of the 150-acre campus, but they’ll have room to add at least four full-sized fields (two natural grass and two artificial turf) with the possibility to add a fifth that could even serve as a stadium for Defiance.
A lot was discussed at Wednesday’s event. Here are the main takeaways:
It will be a recruiting tool
The first thing you notice when you drive up to the Sounders’ future home is that Boeing knew what they were doing when they built it. Unlike most 1990s architecture, this feels like it was built to last with massive glass windows and soft corners.
The inside was even more impressive. The Sounders had apparently considered building something from scratch on the west side of the property but were stunned to discover that the bones of what they needed were already in the former Boeing headquarters.
Visitors enter an expansive, airy lobby and are greeted by a case featuring 14 trophies, most notably the Sounders’ two MLS Cups and four U.S. Open Cups. Behind it is a three-story wall featuring dozens of scarves, including two made by Sounder at Heart.
The ground floor of the five-story building is where the public and players will spend most of their time. There will be state-of-the-art lockerroom facilities for the first team, MLS Next Pro, and academy players that open onto the main training pitch. Within the lockerroom, there will be a modern weight room and workout space, as well as the type of boot-room world-class players have come to expect.
There will also be on-premises kitchens for the first time. Although the Sounders have been reasonably good about providing catered meals, there’s only so much variety that can be offered.
While I’ve never heard of the Sounders losing out on someone because they weren’t suitably impressed by Starfire, the facility had become a bit of a running joke among players about being the “best-kept secret” in MLS. I don’t think that will be much of an issue anymore.
Maybe not as noticeably, the new facility will make it that much easier to recruit non-playing employees, too. The Sounders’ currently have plans to occupy about 50,000 square feet of the building but have the ability to expand well beyond that. Either way, it’s significantly more than the combined square-footage they had at their old Pioneer Square business offices and Starfire, and I suspect they’ll have an even easier time attracting the best and brightest.
Fans will have plenty of access
While it’s unlikely that the general public will be able to just pop in whenever they wanted like they could at Starfire — which is technically a public park — Hanauer made it clear that he sees Sounders FC Center as someplace fans will be welcome. Season-ticket holders names were wrapped around the pillars on the outside of the building, a not-so-subtle illustration that they are the ones who hold up this organization.
Beyond the impressive entrance, there’s memorabilia already sprinkled throughout the first floor. The most expansive display is two cases featuring various jerseys from throughout the Sounders’ existence, spanning the NASL, USL and MLS eras. Nothing is finalized yet, but there are currently discussions with Washington State Legends of Soccer to have some sort of on-site museum.
The renderings feature a second-floor observation deck where fans, media, coaches and front-office staff will be able to easily watch training sessions.
Hanauer even suggested that they might be able to open up the space for viewing parties, and even joked about hoping to secure the massive 10-foot TV screen they used during the press conference.
More than a training facility
Longacres, as you probably know, is a massive property. Just in the building the Sounders plan to occupy there’s going to be at least 200,000 square feet of office space available for other businesses. The entire 150-acre property features nearly 1 million square feet of “class A commercial” office space, much of which is basically move-in ready.
Beyond the training pitch, there’s a 1-mile walking trail, an apple orchard, two ponds and surprisingly rich public-transit access. During a tour, it was noted that it’s only a four-minute walk along the trail from the Sounders’ future offices to the train station that connects riders to Tacoma and downtown Seattle. There’s already a RapidRide bus that connects the Tukwila light rail station to Renton Landing and there will eventually be another line that goes all the way to Bothell, Lynnwood and Shoreline. King County Executive Dow Constantine even said Sound Transit is exploring the possibility of extending the West Seattle light rail line through Renton to the Eastside.
While all of that would seem like overkill if the Sounders training facility was the main attraction, it’s important to note that Unico Properties is planning to build as many as 3,000 multi-family units here some percentage of which are promised to be cost-controlled.
It’s not at all hard to imagine restaurants and other amenities springing up around those units that help turn this into a genuine destination.
The hope is that this will be ready in time for the 2024 preseason, which means work will need to start very quickly. The latest grass can start being planted is July 2023, which means the Sounders have about 17 months to get the land ready. That’s going to involve knocking down quite a few trees, tearing up quite a lot of parking spaces and getting it all approved by the various government entities. It’s an exciting time.