Group pressing to bring Major League Soccer to St. Louis area

Friday, August 10, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- An attorney leading the charge to lure big-time soccer to the St. Louis area will make his case next week to the Metro East community of Collinsville, Ill., for a new 18,500-seat stadium he thinks will kick-start the courtship.

Jeff Cooper's pitch Monday to the Collinsville City Council on behalf of the St. Louis Soccer United group marks the biggest step yet in his group's quest to land a Major League Soccer expansion team by the 2009 season.

The league, with 13 teams in the U.S. and Canada, looks to add three more by 2010, spokesman Dan Courtemanche said. San Jose already has been tapped to join the fold next season, leaving St. Louis and 10 other potential markets vying for the other two expansion spots that could be announced by this year's end, Courtemanche said.

One catch: The market must have a soccer-specific stadium or a plan for one, Courtemanche said.

"It's a huge deal for St. Louis. St. Louis is Soccer Town USA, the best soccer market in the country," Cooper said Friday, touting the region's population base, geographical location and media market size as plusses in its courting a franchise. "The only thing holding it back has been a proper venue to play."

Cooper said the project -- the stadium, along with retail and mixed-use space -- could run about $400 million, with the bulk of the cost covered by a private investment group.

"The state is not going to have any role in financing. We haven't asked for that (help)," added Cooper, a 38-year-old native of nearby Granite City who played soccer in high school and at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

Cooper said the proposed "classically designed," canopied stadium would be on former farm land near Interstates 55-70 and Interstate 255, just 10 minutes from the Gateway Arch and the rest of downtown St. Louis.

The venue also would host international and collegiate soccer matches and high school tournaments, along with possible concerts and music festivals. The complex would have nine additional grass fields for camps, clinics, regional and national tournaments, and league play for local soccer groups.

The proposed development, on 400 acres, also calls for hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space, stand-alone office space, two 120-room hotels, roughly 1,200 units of affordable housing, and large tracts of green space.

Messages left Friday with Collinsville Mayor Stan Schaeffer were not immediately returned.

Cooper's group had made a bid for Utah's Real Salt Lake franchise to move that MLS team to St. Louis. But that pursuit was dashed earlier this year when Utah lawmakers approved a financing package that kept the team in Salt Lake City.

St. Louis has a heady history when it comes to soccer, aside from its being the former home of several pro teams. Saint Louis University has 10 NCAA national championships, and the city of St. Louis last November hosted the College Cup, the semifinals and finals for men's NCAA soccer.

Five of the 11 players on the 1950 U.S. World Cup team that defeated England 1-0 -- among the most famous soccer upsets -- were from St. Louis. That event was chronicled in the 2005 movie, "The Game of Their Lives," with St. Louis providing many of the backdrops in the film.

"Clearly, St. Louis has a strong tradition for the support of soccer," Courtemanche said.

Cooper founded the SimmonsCooper LLC law firm of East Alton in 1999 with John Simmons, who in May completed his own quest to bring professional sports to southern Illinois by opening a new minor-league ballpark in Marion for the fledgling Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League.

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