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New downtown Albany stadium, pro soccer team planned by investors

A group of local businesspeople want to bring a professional soccer team to Albany that would play in a new 8,000-seat downtown stadium as part of a mixed-use development costing upwards of $300 million.

The group, led by philanthropists Ed and Lisa Mitzen, co-founders of Business for Good, has won the support of Major League Soccer Next Pro, a development league with 29 teams in the U.S. and Canada.

MLS Next Pro President Charles Altchek said the league has great confidence in the ownership group and believes the region would strongly support a team whose players have the chance to move up and sign contracts with Major League Soccer clubs.

"We know that Albany is a sports town, we know the Capital Region is a sports region," Altchek said Thursday. "There are sports fans that will travel from anywhere and want to have a team they call their own."

A club won't be awarded to Albany unless financing for a roughly $75 million stadium is secured, a process that Mitzen and the other partners will be pursuing vigorously with the goal of finalizing commitments from state and local officials by the end of this summer.

"It's going to happen," said Ed Mitzen, the founder of the marketing firm Fingerpaint who has has taken on big challenges locally in business and philanthropy. "We're going to get it done."

Steve Freeman, varsity soccer coach at Christian Brothers Academy in Colonie, who has been training youth players for nearly 30 years, will also have a significant role in the team, though at this point not as an owner.

Informal conversations have already been held with elected leaders at the state, county and local level about building the stadium, mixed-income housing, a hotel and other amenities on land near the Greyhound bus station.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, along with New York State Assembly members Pat Fahy and John T. McDonald III, all said they support the concept.

McCoy pointed to the increased exposure for Albany and the new tax revenues that would be generated from spending on hotel rooms, bars, restaurants and other businesses.

"We're hoping to get the governor on board," McCoy said.

Fahy and McDonald are in favor of the state helping to fund a stadium.

"I have more to learn, and we have a few hurdles ahead of us," Fahy said, "but I think this not only could be a transformational project on a site that has been an eyesore and I've been anxious to see it developed."

McDonald said, "Soccer is the world's sport, one of the most unifying sports, and it's a sport that every child can participate in. ... To have Albany in the same league literally as some of the other major cities throughout the country is a huge opportunity that cannot go by."

"I know there are meetings happening almost literally as we speak with the [Gov. Kathy Hochul] administration," he added.

The roughly 8-acre site, known as Liberty Park, has sat undeveloped for more than 20 years and consists mostly of parking lots and vacant buildings. The Greyhound station, long considered an embarrassment, would be demolished but the city's oldest structure, at 48 Hudson Ave., would be preserved along with buildings on Broadway.

The ownership group wants to bring the excitement of professional soccer and other much-needed private-sector development to an area that has been dormant and shabby-looking for a long time.

The expectation is the increased visibility and crowds of people attending the games will spur other developers and business owners to pursue new residential, commercial and recreational investments.

"It's an economic engine that we could not create ourselves," Buell said. "The MLS brand is astounding. Being here is a regional boon the likes of which I would call a generational opportunity."

They felt certain a stadium could be built in time for the team to start playing in June 2026 — an aggressive timeline given the number of inevitable hurdles involved with permitting and construction.

"It's absolutely doable," said Buell, who has shepherded more than $200 million in urban redevelopment projects in the region over the last five years as a principal of Redburn Development Partners in Schenectady. (Redburn isn't involved in the stadium or team ownership group.)

He said the vast majority of the funding would come from the private sector, though he wasn't sure of the exact amount that will be requested from the state.

The owners are sensitive to the criticisms that have been leveled at Hochul for the $850 million in taxpayer subsidies going to the Buffalo Bills' new $1.4 billion stadium ($600 million from the state; $250 million from Erie County).

"Part of this is an exercise in creating energy around this concept," Buell said. "We're not foreign to the idea there will be skepticism. Something that feels too big for Albany, but that's our self-esteem problem rising to the surface."

The stadium would be able to accommodate 12,000 people for non-sporting events, such as outdoor concerts, and would be a short walk from MVP Arena on South Pearl Street, which already draws big crowds for indoor shows.

The development site is owned by an affiliate of Capitalize Albany Corp., a nonprofit that serves as the city's economic development arm. Many of the parcels were taken by eminent domain; an upcoming trial will determine how much a former land owner will be paid for a sliver of the site.

The soccer team ownership group sent a letter this week to Capitalize Albany seeking control of land.

MLS Next Pro, now in its third season, serves as a stepping stone to reach the elite level of Major League Soccer (MLS), the popularity of which has soared in recent years with legions of devoted fans and superstars such as Lionel Messi, one of the greatest of all time, who plays for Inter Miami CF.

Interest in the sport is expected to grow further with the World Cup coming to the U.S. in 2026.

MLS Next Pro has teams in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and New York City that are also home to the parent MLS clubs.

Most of the games during the 30-week season are shown live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Other matches are streamed live online.

New to the league this season are two independent teams in High Point, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Albany team would also be independent, meaning it's not owned or controlled by a Major League Soccer team but players have the opportunity to advance and sign contracts with top-level clubs.

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