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Sounders place Starfire expansion on hold

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No clear timeline on plans to add a new building partially funded by the Sounders Community Trust.

During Thursday night's annual End of Year Alliance Meeting, it was revealed that the club is delaying the expansion plans at Starfire Sports Complex. Originally part of the announcement of Sounders FC 2 and the primary goal of the Sounders Community Trust (SCT), the planned out-building is being evaluated while the club determines if Starfire Sports is the long-term training ground, secondary stadium and host of soccer operations for the team. Paul Cox, President of the SCT, made the announcement.

Since it was part of the reveal and foundation for the SCT, which owns 20 percent of S2, an email went to every founding member this evening. That email outlines why the process is slowing down. It also re-enforces that the club is placing a priority on remaining at Starfire. In comments to Sounder at Heart, Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer called Starfire the "first, second and third choice" for the Sounders and indicated the plan is to remain at Starfire.

A similar statement was released through the SCT:

"The Sounders have a long term lease at Starfire Sports and remaining at Starfire is our first priority. However, as we consider our long term needs for the First Team, S2, and the Academy, we have put plans to break ground on a new building at Starfire in 2016 on hold. Starfire is our partner in all of this long term planning."

Much of the re-evaluation of expansion is connected to the hiring of President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. Part of his process with the team was to take a hard look at previous decisions. Some of those may not be best for the organization in the long term.

But, there are strong indications that the new building, as well as continued stadium improvements, will occur —  just on slower timeline.

The SCT also reiterated that the roughly $250,000 raised through Founders Club membership sales is being held in its own account and continues to draw a small amount of interest.

The full email follows:

An Update on the Starfire Building Project

Hello Sounders Community Trust members!

At tonight's Annual Business Meeting of the Alliance, Adrian Hanauer discussed something that's near and dear to our membership- the future of Starfire as the Sounders training facility. On behalf of the SCT I briefly discussed our point of view on this.

There is a possibility that they would leave Starfire, even though for now the default option is to remain there for the long term.

The Club has asked us to share this statement, which reiterates what Adrian presented at tonight's meeting:


"The Sounders have a long term lease at Starfire Sports and remaining at Starfire is our first priority. However, as we consider our long term needs for the First Team, S2, and the Academy, we have put plans to break ground on a new building at Starfire in 2016 on hold. Starfire is our partner in all of this long term planning."


The longer story is that when they hired Garth Lagerwey to be the General Manager last fall, one of the things that he did was institute a very complete, comprehensive look at the Club from top to bottom.

In the overall structure of global soccer, being able to "grow" and develop your own players from the time they're very young until they're playing for the first team in MLS -- or even seeing supremely talented guys moving on to even more competitive leagues -- is becoming more and more important in MLS.

One of the questions that surfaced during the review was "is Starfire going to be everything we need for the Club in the years to come?" Answering that question definitively is pretty important before millions of dollars are invested.

If the Club is going to wind up moving to its own facilities in the near- or mid-term future, then obviously the Starfire investment doesn't make as much sense.

On the flip side, it might still wind up that Starfire will work out on a long-term basis, in which case the Club will drive on with their facility development plan.

In terms of how this impacts the SCT, here are the main points that Adrian and the SCT Board jointly presented:

  • When we started sales of Founders Club memberships, the plan was for a Starfire building- and for Starfire to be the long-term home of the Sounders for both training, and the stadium as the Club's home for S2 (and occasional first-team games).

  • After the vast majority of SCT-FC sales, the Club hired Garth Lagerwey to take over and run the entire soccer operation.

  • Part of Garth's review and planning in the early spring of 2015 included a pause on the Starfire process.

  • The reason for the pause is that the Club has large ambitions to continue to grow into the biggest & best club in North America and indeed, one of the best in the world, and wants to be sure that Starfire is the long-term answer for that.

  • Still reviewing all of the options, which still include Starfire but might also mean a new training facility owned and operated by the Sounders alone.

  • The Club has not indicated a firm timeline for making their final decision on this.

And immediately after I outlined these points from SCT's perspective:

  • The Club has continued preliminary planning on the Starfire building, and actively engaged the SCT Board for input and feedback on the initial design phases.

  • The money (roughly a quarter-million dollars) generated from the Founders club memberships is safe; it is being held alone in a segregated account by the Club and is earning a small amount of interest.

  • The Club has offered to transfer that money to the Sounders Community Trust account, but for now the board are perfectly comfortable with it being held in trust by the Club.

  • When the Club comes to a final plan for their future, SCT will have to decide on what we want to do with the membership fees. Paths we've discussed include:

  • The default plan is that Club stays at Starfire, and we stick with the original plan. The odds are strong that this is how it will turn out, but there is a possibility that they might move;

  • The Club does a smaller project at Starfire, and we stick with the intent of the original plan and donate to that project; or

  • The Club winds up planning to move at some point, so they don't put any significant funds into Starfire. In that case, SCT will have to decide whether we do something on our own at Starfire, do something with the Club's new home, or do something else entirely.

Our plan is to wait and see what the Club decides. Once they come to a decision, we'll refine our options and then go to the membership at large to see what you prefer to do.

We'll have more updates on other SCT items in the coming weeks/months. In the meantime we will continue to monitor this issue and will keep engaged in dialogue with the Club about it.

As always, we welcome and want your input. You can email me at paul.cox@SoundersCommunityTrust.org and I'll share it with the rest of the Board.
Eternal Blue; Forever Green,
Paul

Paul Cox
President, Sounders Community Trust