Updated 04:11 AM EDT, Thu, Oct 28, 2021

Atlanta Set to Land MLS Expansion Team

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The city of Atlanta is one step closer to getting a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise, according to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who would own the new soccer club.

"We're in the very final stages of doing our agreement. We hope to have an announcement this coming week," Blank told Atlanta radio station 680 The Fan on Wednesday.

Blank has long wanted to bring an MLS team to Atlanta and has made accommodations in his pending $1.2 billion stadium that will be the new home for his football team and will be modeled after the Vancouver Whitecaps BC Place stadium - complete with retractable roof, which Blank hopes will host not only his expansion team for the American soccer league but also international matches and tournaments.

Atlanta has shown an interest in the sport, having successfully hosted several international friendlies and tournaments over the course of the years at the Georgia Dome, including a CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals game last year as well as last month's friendly between Mexico and Nigeria, attracting 68,212 fans - a record for the sport in the city.

"We think it's a tremendous fit for Atlanta from a variety of standpoints," said Blank to the radio station. "Our new stadium is being designed to accommodate potentially the World Cup and international soccer games with the roof expanding. The roof, obviously, is retractable, which means we can open and close it to any level we want to. The field will be designed to accommodate soccer. We're enthused about that. We think the fan support in Atlanta will be incredible. An urban, downtown soccer stadium will be a tremendous hit in Atlanta."

An announcement has been scheduled for April 16, with the team hoping to launch their inaugural season in 2017. Atlanta would join New York City FC - co-owned by English Premier League (EPL) club Manchester City FC and Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, the Orlando City Soccer Lions co-owned by Phil Rawlins and Flavio Augusto da Silva - founder of the Wise Up ESL, and the Miami expansion project being led by David Beckham, Simon Fuller, and Marcelo Claure.

Beckham recently met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott to discuss potential state tax subsidies similar to those given to National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) teams that call the state home for both future Florida MLS expansion projects, with the former Manchester United FC, Real Madrid CF, Paris Saint-Germain FC, and Los Angeles Galaxy star hiring lobbyists to help attain a package deal of $2 million per year for a new soccer-specific facility.

Beckham had proposed building a stadium sitting next to AmericanAirlines Arena - home of the Miami Heat - located in the city's waterfront with a view of downtown Miami and a capacity for 25,000 fans. But the project has hit a snag recently that may have to force Beckham and his investors to look for alternative locations.

The Miami Herald reports that Miami-Dade commissioners have denied a request to relocate a fuel-spill facility in PortMiami that would need to be moved for Beckham's proposed soccer stadium. The fuel-spill facility sits west of the proposed venue but the area would be used for hotel and commercial space, such as an entertainment complex, that would bring in tourism. But officials say they want stadium developers to cover the $6 million cost to relocate the fuel-spill facility, before even starting a discussion on a stadium project.

PortMiami officials have their own plans for the area, looking to pursue a $225 million bond offering to fund tunnel upgrades for an underwater tunnel set to open in May that would connect the port to the MacArthur Causeway, as well install larger cranes and other improvements in order to handle bigger cargo ships coming to the port through an expanded Panama Canal. The expansion on the Panama Canal is expected to be finished by 2016, with higher cargo levels and growing cruise industry revenues expected to help with future debt payments for PortMiami.

"We need the Panama Canal to open up," said Ed Marquez, Dade-County deputy mayor for finance to the Miami Herald. "We're relying on future things to occur to meet debt service."

Beckham and his investors can also expect an obstacle from cruise line Royal Caribbean, who is against a soccer facility sitting on the world's busiest cruise-ship port, with the company also not keen on moving their headquarters - which includes employee parking lot, daycare center, and employee gym - to make space for a new stadium.

"I think there's a sentiment that [a soccer stadium] should not be in play,'' said Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo. "There may be a majority on this commission who do not want it in play."

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