RALEIGH, N.C. — If Steve Malik gets his way, a soccer stadium surrounded by an entertainment district is coming to the underdeveloped southeast portion of downtown Raleigh.
On Tuesday, Malik, John Kane and Billie Redmond unveiled plans for a development project estimated to cost about $2 billion that will span more than 55 acres. The centerpiece is a 20,000-seat soccer stadium that can double as an entertainment and event venue. The site would also feature 1.6 million square feet of office space, 125,000 square feet of retail space, 1,200 hotel rooms, 1,750 residential units and green space.
The stadium’s main tenants will be the USL’s North Carolina FC and the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage, both of which are owned by Malik. Festivals, concerts, eSports, graduations, sports championships and other events were mentioned as options to fill out the proposed venue’s calendar.
Kane is the CEO of a realty corporation carrying his namesake, and Redmond is a real estate broker and the founder of Trademark Properties. The project would sit near the intersection of Interstate 40 and South Saunders Street.
“This is going to change the gateway into our city,” Kane said. “The location and what it will do for this part of our city, southeast Raleigh, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
And while Malik, Kane and Redmond were filled with enthusiasm, confidence and positivity about the project – dubbed Downtown South – there’s a lot of work to be done and hoops to jump through before shovels start digging into the ground. It hinges on the approval of the Raleigh City Council and the Wake County Board of Commissioners, who are set to say yay or nay on the project by August. Malik, Kane and Redmond need their approval, because the project is planned to be funded by hotel tax money from a city-county fund for tourism-focused developments.
The hurdle is the city and county managers have already issued their recommendations for the next cycle of how that money — $55 million this year — will be dispersed. This stadium project needs $13 million per year to get rolling. To get that money, Malik, Kane and Redmond will need the city council and board of commissioners to overrule the recommendations of their managers. Kane said Tuesday that this project will not happen without that funding.
If approved, the project is slated to begin construction during the second quarter of 2020. Malik said that he and Kane have the land under contract, but haven’t purchased it yet.
“Our vision is to make the Downtown Raleigh Entertainment District a world-class destination, offering an exceptional social experience for fans and the community,” Malik said. “The benefits of this project are significant. Between the job creation, economic activity and enhancement to our vibrant downtown cityscape, we are confident the community will embrace it as the city continues to grow and offer more to its residents.”
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Malik, who is also the owner of Cary-based health information technology firm MedFusion, as well as an investor and entrepreneur, bought North Carolina FC — then named the Carolina RailHawks — in 2015. He then acquired the Western New York Flash and renamed it the North Carolina Courage. North Carolina FC is also home to youth development teams, featuring about 14,000 players.
In 2017, Malik submitted a bid to MLS for an expansion team and proposed building a stadium at a different site in Raleigh. Those plans fell through, obviously, and while Malik would love to have an MLS franchise in Raleigh, this project doesn’t hinge on America’s top soccer league coming to the Triangle.
“Frankly, we will be much more competitive (in MLS expansion) with the stadium plan,” Malik said. “At the same time, when we listened to people, one of the polling questions was ‘Does it matter if we have an MLS team or not?’ And frankly, our community doesn’t care that much. They want events downtown. Would it be nice to have MLS? Sure. But at the same time, we have the world’s greatest women’s team.”
The Courage won the NWSL title and the International Champions Cup last season. Four Courage players are with the U.S. national team at the World Cup in France, and three others competed for New Zealand, Brazil and Canada.
NCFC and the Courage currently play at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. It opened in 2002 and features a natural grass playing surface, several training pitches and a 10,000-seat stadium. It’s a fine soccer venue, but it’s based in a suburb about 10 miles away from downtown Raleigh and there’s not many options for food, drinks or hotels around it.
“The town of Cary has been a great partner in this… We have a fabulous facility now,” Malik said. “It’s just a little hard to get in and out of and there’s not a lot of things to do around it. It’s certainly not an urban environment.”
Malik said if the new stadium is approved, NCFC and the Courage could continue to train in Cary. The facility has also hosted countless College Cups and national team games. In August, it will host the Women’s International Champions Cup and in October it will be the site for the NWSL Championship.
NWSL President Amanda Duffy and U.S. Soccer men’s U-20 coach Tab Ramos were among those who showed support for the project on Twitter. Mary-Ann Baldwin, who is a candidate for mayor in Raleigh’s upcoming election, also voiced support for it.
In presenting the project on Tuesday, Malik, Kane and Redmond showed research from an independent study that said the downtown entertainment complex would generate a $3.8 billion economic impact for Wake County over the next 15 years. The study also estimated that the project would create 5,900 jobs for Wake County and generate about $24 million in annual tax revenue. A survey by McLaughlin & Associates said that 75 percent of people supported a stadium in downtown Raleigh.
Of the five largest cities in North Carolina – Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham and Winston-Salem – Raleigh is the only one without a downtown stadium. PNC Arena, where the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and North Carolina State’s men’s basketball team play, is just outside the northwest portion of the city.
“This is our chance to do something about it,” Malik said. “Is there anything in our country that polls at 75 percent?
“I’ve been on a two-year journey of listening,” Malik said. “After listening to the community, what people want is their entertainment options downtown… We’ve been working on this for multiple years. Everything’s coming to a head now.”