Key Need For Soccer: A Stadium

What if the Puget Sound soccer community threw a bonfire, gathered all of the dry leaves and kindling and logs they had, but no one brought the matches?

In that case, the community would have what it has now - lots of anxious soccer officials desperately striking flint on stone, hoping for a spark.

Seattle has the fan base and the market size to make professional soccer a viable spectator sport. But if it's ever going to bring a Major League Soccer team to Seattle, it needs the find the spark to build a soccer-only facility.

That was the consensus of a group of about 40 soccer officials, coaches and other interested parties who met downtown at a "soccer summit" called by the Sports and Events Council of Seattle/King County.

"I think you'll see the soccer communities really start moving now," said Alan Hinton, head of a group that plans to revive the Seattle Sounders. "There were a lot of powerful people in that meeting, and I think they'll go away thinking, `stadium, stadium, stadium.' "

Soccer officials plan to explore the feasibility of building a 20,000- to 30,000-seat stadium in the Seattle area for a team in the new league. The facility also could be used by college teams, for international matches and for youth championships.

Michael Campbell, president of the sports council, said the groundswell of support for professional soccer was strong enough that he will tell the MLS this week that Seattle is interested in

bidding for one of 12 teams that will begin play in the spring of 1995. Applications are due May 15.

But behind the big dreams of soccer enthusiasts looms one question: Where would the MLS team play? A crowd of 43,651 at the Kingdome last Saturday convinced an MLS official that Seattle could produce 10,000 season tickets, but the league also wants bidding cities to show they have an interim facility to play in, as well as plans for a long-term stadium.

No answers on the facilities question were provided yesterday. Only potential sites were discussed.

Campbell said that Memorial Stadium might be available, but that the facility is leased to concert promoters the next two summers, so finding open dates may be difficult. The artificial turf also may have to be replaced with grass, which is expected to be a MLS standard.

Instead, Campbell suggested finding a site on the Eastside or in other suburbs, where youth and adult soccer are popular and cities might be eager for a professional team.

Soccer officials also hope to look into vacant industrial property.

The projected cost of a new soccer-only stadium is $30 million to $35 million, said Bill Sage, chief executive officer for the MLS and a former general manager of the Seattle Storm. He said the MLS will offer cities financial help to build or refurbish stadiums.

Also, Rep. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, said in a phone interview yesterday that he would be open to helping find state funding for a soccer stadium. A bill sponsored by Jacobsen in 1991 proposed giving $3 million to a soccer stadium that would be used by colleges and other soccer groups in the state.

"I'd really be supportive of it," Jacobsen said. He said, however, that budget limitations imposed by a recent voter initiative may make it more difficult to obtain funding.

Hinton wants Seattle to skip the first round of bidding for MLS teams, and instead go for a team when the league expands later in the 1990s. He said that Seattle needs more time to sort out its stadium quandry.

Taking more time also could put Hinton and his group of investors - including Scott Oki, former Microsoft executive - in the driver's seat for a Seattle franchise in the MLS, a Division I league. Hinton plans to revive the Sounders this summer as a member of the Division II American Professional Soccer League.

Hinton said the lack of a soccer facility probably would force the Sounders to play their games next season at three sites - the Kingdome, Tacoma Dome and Memorial Stadium. The club says it already has orders for 1,500 season tickets, despite not having a home or schedule.