The Houston Dynamo is eyeing a site on the outskirts of Bellaire as the potential location of the soccer team’s future $80 million stadium. The idea has some Bellaire officials concerned, but discussions are so early, the idea could just as easily fail as succeed.
“It is within a soccer kick of the City of Bellaire,” said Dynamo President Oliver Luck. The soccer team is in very early discussions with Midway Companies, a real estate developing firm, about building a 20,000-seat stadium on 30 acres of land at South Rice Avenue and Westpark Drive. For the past two years, the team worked on a 10-acre tract in downtown Houston, but those negotiations stalled recently.
“It is so preliminary it probably shouldn’t even be in the public arena for discussion yet,” said Brad Freels, chairman and CEO of Midway Companies. “When it was mentioned in commissioners court yesterday, it took me by as much surprise as it did everyone else.”
When a Dynamo fan addressed the Harris County Commissioners Court on Jan. 26 about the stalled plans for the downtown stadium, Commissioner Steve Radack mentioned the Midway Companies option.
“A lot of people are of the opinion now if people want to build sports facilities, it’s preferable to do it without taxpayers money. I personally don’t like seeing government money used to build stadiums,” Radack said today. “It’s interesting when a company steps forward and says ‘We believe we can do it’.”
At this point, the Dynamos haven’t given up on former plans to build the stadium downtown, on a track owned by the City of Houston. Under that deal, the Dynamos would pay $60 million, the city of Houston would contribute $10 million. The team wanted Harris County to pitch in the remaining $10 million, but negotiations stalled when the county refused.
Brad Freels said his company has owned the tract at South Rice Avenue and Westpark Drive for 10 years. It has collaborated with the city of Bellaire and METRO on studies of good, smart development for the land, he said.
The idea now, Freels said, is to have the stadium in a mix-used development that also includes space for hotels, offices, retail stores, restaurants and more. Bellaire’s new Comprehensive Plan envisions similar mixed-use developments for a tract of land — The site of a future light rail line — that is right across from the Midway Companies property.
“I think it can be extremely positive for Bellaire,” Freels said about the stadium idea. “I think it can be extremely positive for Uptown. I think it can be extremely positive for West University. The whole area could benefit from this.”
Luck said he is talking with Midway Companies to see if the team can negotiate an ideal financial package similar to what it has tried at the downtown Houston site.
“The question really is, does this site with the private developer like the Midway Companies, does this offer the same kind of package,” Luck said. “If the answer to that is no, the financials don’t work, there’s no sense doing the rest.”
The matter of a financial agreement could be answered within weeks, said Luck. But even with an agreement, “the rest” could cause hang ups. Developers would have to consider the environmental impact, noise, traffic, parking and more.
The traffic question is one that will probably concern many Bellaire residents. Mayor Cindy Siegel said she learned about the plan last week from Midway Companies, and today she sent the company a letter opposing the plan.
“No matter how I look at it, in looking at that property, I just think it will hurt Bellaire and I don’t think it will be good for fans because I think it will be difficult for them to get to that site,” Siegel said.
She said the Bellaire Police Department already responds to large numbers of car accidents at the intersection of Loop 610 and Southwest Freeway, and more traffic would only make the problem worse.
Freels said he thinks the traffic that would head to the stadium for the Dynamos’ 20 games per year would not be nearly as significant as the workers who drive daily in the Galleria area. It would be more like traffic heading to Joel Osteen’s 18,000-seat Lakewood Church, which holds just 2,000 people less than the planned stadium.
City Manager Bernie Satterwhite said it’s too early for him to speculate about what is good or bad about the idea, because he hasn’t seen the details. But he did envision traffic as a potential problem.
“I’m sure there will be people out there who have grave concerns and there will be people out there who think it would be something good,” Satterwhite said. “It’s my job to kind of listen to all those things and help facilitate the consensus.”