As Columbus officials and business leaders work on purchasing the Columbus Crew, the city has developed a plan to turn MAPFRE Stadium into a $100 million, multi-use sports park.
Once the city builds a new stadium for the Crew, it hopes to convert MAPFRE Stadium into the Columbus Community Sports Park, as well as the Crew’s new training facility. The complex would include an indoor turf field, eight indoor basketball courts, seven community tournament-level outdoor athletic fields and two Major League Soccer-level practice fields.
MAPFRE was built in 1999 as the first dedicated soccer stadium in the country. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther says he does not want the historic stadium to become a blighted property.
“We also knew if the Crew left, this stadium would become one of the largest vacant and abandoned structures in this community,” Ginther says. “Not on our watch. Not in this community.”
According to Ginther, around 200,000 people live within three miles of the stadium, in neighborhoods like Linden, Old North and Milo Grogan.
Ginther projects the Crew would play at MAPFRE for two years after being purchased by local investors, who currently include Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and Columbus doctor Peter Edwards, Jr. That would provide buffer time to build a new stadium.
“The city is committing funds for land and infrastructure for a new stadium, the details of which are still being finalized,” Ginther says.
He wants the community park to focus on maintaining affordable housing, creating high-paying jobs, improving youth programming and “record minority participation” in the city.
Columbus City Council member Elizabeth Brown says the Columbus Crew must be purchased before the end of the year, otherwise Major League Soccer will move on.
“They have a business to run,” Brown says.
Columbus and the state of Ohio are currently suing MLS and Crew owner Anthony Precourt over the "Modell Law," a state law that prohibits teams that play in publicly-funded stadiums from leaving town without giving locals a chance to purchase them. A Franklin County judge recently rejected a motion to dismiss the suit, allowing the case to move forward.
City Council will hold a public hearing in its chambers Thursday at 6 p.m. to hear community feedback on plans to purchase the team. The council expects to vote on the plan at next Monday’s meeting.
Ginther says more announcements regarding the Crew will come in the next couple of days.