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Soccer stadium and franchise proposed for downtown Albany

ALBANY — The prospective owners of a planned professional soccer franchise in Albany want to build an 8,000-seat downtown stadium that would anchor a $300 million entertainment district of hotels, restaurants, apartments and more. 

The as-yet-unnamed team would be an MLS Next Pro franchise principally owned by Business for Good founders Ed and Lisa Mitzen, plus a group of investors that includes real estate developers Jeff Buell and Chris Spraragen. The franchise already has support from MLS executives, who came to Albany on Thursday to meet with elected officials as part of a push for professional soccer in the area. 

“The Capital Region has been on our radar for some time,” said Charles Altchek, the league’s president and an MLS executive vice president. “From a market perspective, we didn’t have to be convinced.”

The stadium alone would cost $75 million and be part of a district built in the Liberty Square area of downtown — a bleak and largely vacant neighborhood sarcastically known as the “Parking Lot District.” Team officials said they expect to ask the state to help finance the project, though they emphasized that most of the funding would be from private investment.

The Mitzens and others involved with the project describe it as an opportunity to revitalize downtown and fill existing demands for new hotel and entertainment options. 

Mayor Kathy Sheehan called the proposal in a statement a "once-in-a-generation, transformational opportunity" and pledged "I will do everything in my power to help make this a reality."

MLS is hoping to have the Albany soccer stadium open in time for the 2026 season and timed to begin play in conjunction with the United States hosting the World Cup — an ambitious timeline. In the meantime, the team could potentially play temporarily at existing facilities at either the state University at Albany or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, although neither scenario is considered ideal. 

“We want to launch into the stadium for a whole host of reasons,” Altchek said.

Reform Architecture in Schenectady has developed initial site plans and renderings of the 9-acre stadium district. Team officials have also been talking with Populous, the architecture firm responsible for Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London and the new Buffalo Bills football stadium, about designing a stadium that would be built to allow for future expansion and additional seating. 

In addition to soccer, the facility could host concerts and other events that aren’t large enough for MVP Arena or the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs. The additional events are considered key to the stadium’s financial viability and the overall success of the entertainment district. The NextPro league expects to play a 28-game schedule in 2026, which would mean 14 home games, not including preseason, cup and playoff games. 

Officials from the team said they hope to launch a women’s professional franchise that would also play in the stadium. The rapidly growing National Women’s Soccer League does not have a franchise in upstate New York but has a team in northern New Jersey and recently awarded a team to Boston. 

Of course, the Capital Region has something of a mixed record with professional sports. The Tri-City ValleyCats in Troy have enjoyed substantial support, but the team recently lost its affiliation with Major League Baseball as part of a national contraction of the sport’s minor leagues. 

The Albany Devils, a New Jersey Devils affiliate, played at what is now MVP Arena. But attendance was poor and the team moved to Binghamton in 2017. 

But the Mitzen group nevertheless contends that the region is ready to support a soccer franchise. For one, the sport is rapidly growing and is popular with age and demographic groups considered less interested in hockey and most other sports. They also contend that a franchise playing the world’s most popular sport in a downtown Albany stadium would be primed for success in ways that other teams were not. 

“MLS feels like the future,” Mitzen said. 

Buell said he became convinced of soccer’s Capital Region viability after attending a St. Louis City FC game played last year in that city’s soccer-specific stadium, which likewise anchors a mixed-use development district. The energy and passion for the team were infectious, Buell said, even though the franchise at that point had only been playing for a few months.  

It is unclear whether state officials or Empire State Development would be willing to subsidize stadium construction or the project more broadly, but there is a history of state support for professional sports.

In 2012, when Andrew Cuomo was governor, the state contributed $54 million for a $130 million renovation of the Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium. Erie County contributed an additional $41 million. 

Ten years later, in 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul agreed that the state would give $600 million toward the construction of an entirely new Buffalo Bills stadium to be built in suburban Orchard Park. The county kicked in an additional $250 million, and both the state and the county have promised additional spending in ongoing maintenance of the stadium expected to open in 2026. 

Baseball stadiums for the New York Yankees and Mets, a hockey arena for the New York Islanders and a basketball arena for the Brooklyn Nets have also received varying degrees of state support that, taken together with the renovation of Madison Square Garden, totals nearly $400 million, according to the Buffalo-based Investigative Post. 

On the other hand, a soccer-specific stadium being built in Queens for the New York City Football Club is credited for largely eschewing public subsidies other than infrastructure improvements and property tax breaks. That team, however, is under the umbrella of English Premier League side Manchester City and majority owned by Abu Dhabi Unity Group, an equity fund allegedly controlled by the Abu Dhabi government.   

Albany team’s prospective owners are not as flush. Ed Mitzen is the CEO and founder of Fingerpaint Marketing, a Saratoga Springs firm that specializes in health care and pharmaceutical advertising and promotion. Business for Good, meanwhile, is a nonprofit formed in 2020 to support businesses with a philanthropic focus, including the new Hattie’s Restaurant on Madison Avenue in Albany. 

That restaurant is within blocks of the soccer stadium site.

Read the full story: here

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