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Boise lands professional soccer team — but there’s a catch

Boise would acquire a professional soccer team that would play in a league with affiliates of the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders if a stadium is built in the West End.

Agon Sports & Entertainment, the owners of the Boise Hawks, a short-season minor league baseball team, announced Friday that it has signed a franchise agreement with the United Soccer League to bring a team to Boise. The deal, under which Agon would own the team, is contingent upon construction of the Boise Sports Park stadium planned between Main Street, Whitewater Park Boulevard, Fairview Avenue and 27th Street.

“We’ve said all along that professional soccer is a foundational element of this project and key to its success,” Chris Schoen, managing partner for Agon Sports, said in a news release. “There is tremendous community support for bringing a pro soccer team to Boise and we’re pleased the USL recognizes the immense potential of a franchise in this market.”

The USL Championship league, based in Tampa, Florida, consists of 36 teams. It includes the Portland Timbers 2 and the Seattle Sounders FC2. Boise would make a good fit, USL spokesman Ryan Madden said.

“The community’s passion for soccer combined with the knowledge and expertise of Agon – a top quality operator of professional sports – makes the city a natural candidate for USL expansion,” Madden said in the release.

The league plans to expand to 40 teams by 2026, the year the United States will host the World Cup, Sports Illustrated reported.

For the league, USL requires an owner with a net worth of at least $20 million, a stadium capacity greater than 5,000 and a market size of at least 750,000, the magazine reported. The population of the Treasure Valley in 2017 was 790,363, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

More than 12,000 children are involved in organized soccer programs in the Treasure Valley, and the presence of a professional team would create more interest, Schoen said. He noted that 20,000 people attended a 2015 match between Athletic Bilbao and Club Tiquana at Albertsons Stadium, and the following year more than 4,300 people attended a sellout between Portland Timbers 2 and the Swope Park Rangers.

“Having a pro team we can call our own will energize the soccer community, create greater opportunities for our kids and benefit the local economy,” said Bill Taylor, president of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association.

Schoen is also a partner in Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties, which is looking to build the stadium. The development, near the Boise River and Esther Simplot Park, would include housing, retail businesses and office space. It could also be available for concerts, festivals, youth sports and other events.

The stadium would also serve as the home of the Hawks, affiliated with the Colorado Rockies professional baseball team. Since 1989, the Hawks have played in 3,452-seat Memorial Stadium, located next to the Western Idaho Fairgrounds in Garden City. Teams owners would like to move the team to a larger, brand-new stadium.

Greenstone Properties had originally eyed property that included the old Kmart on Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive. St. Luke’s Health System has used it for offices for the past decade. Schoen abandoned that idea and opted for the West End, which he said offered better access and visibility, with more commercial space and less existing residential property. It also offers easy access to the Interstate 184 connector.

The site is kitty-corner from the old Bob Rice Ford dealership, now an empty lot that the College of Western Idaho wants to use for its campus. Schoen has been working to obtain some of the property from Los Angeles developer LocalConstruct.

The proposed stadium property is within an urban renewal district. Property taxes from commercial or residential development would help pay off a loan from the Capital City Development Corp., the city’s urban renewal agency, to build the stadium.

The city has set aside $3 million for the stadium, but no proposal has been submitted to the Boise City Council.

An investor group, Ameri Shore, bought more than eight acres of the Americana property after Schoen announced his company was abandoning that site. Ameri Shore has not announced its plans. A smaller, 2.2-acre parcel was bought by RDT Real Estate. It is controlled by Robert Rebholtz Jr., the president of Agri Beef. The company’s headquarters are just west of the property.

There is opposition to the stadium proposal. Gary Michael, the former CEO of Albertsons, and Bill Ilet, former managing partner of the defunct Idaho Stampede professional basketball team, formed a group, Concerned Boise Taxpayers, to oppose the use of public tax dollars for the project.

Another group, Boise Working Together, is seeking a public vote on the stadium and the proposal for a new headquarter library.

Efforts to reach a city spokesman and representatives of Concerned Boise Taxpayers and Boise Working Together were unsuccessful.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.