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Louisville Metro Launching Feasibility Study of Soccer Stadium

Louisville Metro government has reached an agreement with an outside analyst to study potential sites for a new professional soccer stadium.

The firm, Convention Sports and Leisure, will examine four potential sites to determine if constructing a soccer stadium would be a good investment for Louisville.

Specifics of where those sites are, exactly, is not yet known, said Jeff Mosley, a deputy director of Louisville Forward.

"We'll know when we know," he said. "We're not going to tip our hand on a lot of this stuff because then the property could skyrocket. You could have people trying to buy up land and sell it to the city at a higher price. We're going to try to do this in a manner that's in the best interest of the city."

Mosley said the potential sites will be chosen by the firm but confirmed that at least one site will be in downtown Louisville.

Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, a Democrat, is calling for the stadium to be constructed at Champions Park on River Road, east of downtown. He submitted a resolution supporting that notion to the council for approval.

Louisville Metro will pay Convention Sports and Leisure $75,000 to conduct the study, according to a city news release. Analysts with the firm will examine potential sites, as well as possible costs, funding sources, economic impact and market demand.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in October of last year that the city would examine the feasibility of constructing a new stadium. The United Soccer League club, Louisville City FC, had a breakout inaugural year, he said at the time. The team made the playoffs and tallied one of the highest attendance records of any team in the professional minor league.

Louisville City played its home games at Slugger Field, a baseball-specific stadium.

Team owner Wayne Estopinal, a Southern Indiana architect, has said the club will need a soccer-specific stadium in the future. The arrangement with the Louisville Bats baseball team has been strained at times.

The analysts will try to assess how much support can be generated by the existing fanbase and business community for a new 8,000- to 10,000-seat stadium, as well as a 20,000-seat stadium. They'll also use data from comparable stadiums across the country as benchmarks for what could lead to a successful stadium endeavor, the contract states.

Some comparable stadiums include Atlanta Silverback Park (Atlanta Silverbacks), Sahlen's Stadium (Rochester Rhinos) and Highmark Stadium (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), according to the contract.

The site analysis will examine each site's acreage, accessibility, parking, residential impact and costs associated with land acquisition, the contract says.

Mosley said there is no requirement that analysts look at only city-owned land. He couldn't say if land could be acquired through imminent domain procedures.

Analysts also will examine potential public or private funding mechanisms for the stadium. Private sector sources may include stadium naming rights, sponsorship or premium seating options.

Public funding sources could include tax revenues, tax increment financing, tax credits, bonding mechanisms or tapping into the city's general fund.

President Obama's proposed federal budget this year includes a call to end issuing tax-exempt government bonds for professional sports stadiums. Bloomberg reported the practice has led to nearly $17 billion in public funds being spent to construct arenas and stadiums for pro football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams. That has cost American taxpayers nearly $4 billion in federal taxes in the last 30 years, according that analysis.

Mosley said moving forward with the study is no guarantee a stadium will be constructed.

"This study is going to form the groundwork, the empirical evidence that we base our analysis on, it's the first step," he said. "I'm looking to see what the empirical evidence is going to say so we can evaluate the deal-worthiness of the whole situation."

Mosley said the city will begin meeting with the firm in the coming weeks to start the evaluation process. Asked when residents could expect the analysis to be completed, he said sooner rather than later.

"Months, rather than sets of months," he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.