A Map for Renovating Santa Ana Stadium

No, I haven’t dropped this subject. Nor will I.

Granted, Santa Ana Stadium isn’t only a soccer venue. It stages all kinds of events and it will continue to do so. But why not with some sorely-needed renovation?

Pro soccer continues to grow and evolve around the country and not only in the now overly-mentioned Major League Soccer division. The North American Soccer League (Division 2) is adding 3 teams in 2016 in Miami, Puerto Rico and Oklahoma City, and the United Soccer League (Division 3) adds teams at a frequent rate. The latter leagues don’t make an issue about building a stadium first, in order to “secure” a club, or franchise, to be more precise. MLS is entirely about having a stadium deal in place, deals done with city governments that at times include getting tax breaks or anything having to do with reducing costs for those proposing expansion franchises. In Miami and Queens, NY, for example, MLS tried to sway government to give them some of the most scenic land to build stadiums, but ended up getting shut out of Queens, and is looking like their options have run out in Miami too. Theirs is a top-down approach to starting up a new team, and it never happens without the blessings and piles of cash associated with NBA, NFL or MLB owners. That is how those owners want to run a “major” soccer league, one called Division 1, that is supposed to be perceived as the top league. Why? Because it’s run by guys with experience running American sports leagues. The problem is soccer is a global sport and not simply an American sport.

The North American Soccer league differs from MLS in a number of ways, one of which is in its approach to building clubs organically, starting small in venues that are already built, which gets us to the main point. Santa Ana has a very potent city-owned resource in disrepair in Santa Ana Stadium.

So how can Santa Ana Stadium be renovated, if the city wanted it to be?

Political Will

Worry not, Santa Ana councilpersons, city manager, etc., it’s ok to like soccer. Really, it is! Don’t feel ashamed that it’s a sport associated with your Mexican / Latino ancestry. I know some of you are big on baseball and the NFL, and are as American as bratwürsten, I mean, hot dogs, but really it’s ok to have worldly taste in sport. No?

Look at politicos in the city of St. Paul, MN that okayed a land use deal with MLS to add a franchise there.

Look at San Antonio that put in some of their own money to buy from Toyota Field stadium from a private developer, the owner of the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions. I’m not saying the city of Santa Ana should pay anything to a private developer, mind you. I’m giving examples.

In Sacramento, their mayor Kevin Johnson is the biggest cheerleader for an MLS expansion franchise, gleefully touting stadium renderings for the world to see.

City governments have shown a willingness to house pro soccer, and to have multi-use in their facilities, all around the country. New stadiums have been built very recently, and new ones and or redevelopment of existing ones are slated to happen in Orlando, Portland (converted a baseball stadium), Kansas City,  Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and in other parts.

So how are some ways that Santa Ana can maximize the use of such a potent city resource like Santa Ana Stadium?

Stadium sponsor

First off, never mind tearing it down. Never mind reorienting it to face the “East End” of the downtown. It’s orientation is fine the way it is. And it’ll keep the cost down! What it does need is complete improvement of its caged-up concession stands (at least what they appear to be) and just overall upgrades to seats, the press box, maybe throw in some Wi Fi–no, it’s a must that it have powerful Wi Fi to broadcast games from there, which is the way of the future.

Our stadium missed out on the age of stadium sponsorships. I remember when Anaheim Stadium was just that, before it became Edison Field. In came the era of the Arrowhead Ponds, Home Depot Centers, Nokia Theaters, etc, etc. And we stayed as is all of this time. No disrespect to the memory of Eddie West, but I’m sure if he were here today he’d love to cover a game in a venue reflective of its time. So why not be proactive towards finding a stadium sponsor for our stadium? Look at our corporate tenants: Ingram Micro, Behr, Yokohama, First American… who else?

Models for stadium redevelopment

Public-private partnerships around pro soccer proposals abound around the country. There are the examples I gave before in Sacramento, San Antonio and St. Paul, but lets focus on St. Paul for a minute.

The investment group bringing a franchise to St. Paul brokered a deal with the city that involves a primary building expense covered by the franchisees (the investment group). That expense is to be paid back by the city on payments. The details / terms of those payments were negotiable, of course.

In Detroit, the Detroit City Football (soccer) Club formed a partnership with a school district to redevelop Keyworth Stadium, for their use in 2016.

Contingency plan

If for whatever reason Santa Ana Stadium can’t be renovated, there’s another option for pro soccer at Centennial Park. The soccer complex at Centennial can be modeled like the one at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, GA, which was also renovated and expanded to seat 5,000 spectators.

Another option is at Santa Ana College. The track field, where the SAC Dons football and LA Kiss of the Arena Football League train, can have seats added if necessary, if the right partnership is reached with the college and its district.

Lastly

Modern-day Santa Ana stakeholders inherited a stadium that has tremendous potential. A renovated stadium coupled with the new downtown attractions would be an economic boost to the city. Elected city councilpersons favoring an upgraded Santa Ana Stadium would be putting the city on the map. It is true that city council has been cooperative in the past with other plans to bring pro soccer to the city, like in the case of Major League Soccer’s defunct Chivas USA and their upcoming Los Angeles Football Club. But the city, we, shouldn’t be deterred by MLS or anyone, from our intentions of realizing our potential as a soccer city.

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Author: Omar Ávalos Gallegos

I'm a music composer, musicologist, pianist, flamenco guitarist and writer out of Santa Ana California. I've written on soccer in the past for Soccer Newsday, SB Nation and have contributed to TheCup.US and The Guardian US. Covered the 2017 NPSL Combine for Midfield Press. Started own soccer blogs including Saint City Post, Angeltown FC, The Anemometer and more.

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