Fitzpatrick Stadium is one of the two sites in the city being considered for a professional soccer team. To make Fitzpatrick work for the team, stands would have to be expanded, a new building with locker rooms, press box and concessions would have to be constructed and the field would have to be upgraded, displacing the track on the site. Contributed rendering / USL to Portland

The western end of Park Avenue is already home to professional baseball and basketball franchises. By spring 2023, it could also play host to a professional soccer team.

Fitzpatrick Stadium is one of two city-owned locations being considered for a $10-12 million home for the United Soccer League franchise that former professional soccer player Gabe Johnson-Hoffman wants to bring a to Portland. The stadium is next to Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs, and behind the James A. Banks Sr. Exposition Building, home of the G-League Maine Celtics. The other option for the site is Preble Field on Back Cove, across from the Hannaford parking lot.

The estimated $8 million to $10 million need to renovate Fitzpatrick Stadium and the $10 million to $12 million to construct a new stadium on Preble Street will be raised through private donations and not through tax dollars.

The USL officially awarded Portland a USL League One franchise earlier this year contingent on finalizing a home stadium. For the past two years,  Johnson-Hoffman, founder and president of USL to Portland, has been working with the city to find suitable sites. The league is two steps below Major League Soccer, the top-tier professional league that includes the New England Revolution and 25 other teams across the United States and Canada. The 12-team League One typically attracts top collegiate players.

“Portland is viewed as an an excellent market for this league with our proven history of successful power division professional sports, our demographics and cultural diversity,” Hoffman-Johnson, a former soccer player at Falmouth High School and Dartmouth College, told members of the city’s housing and economic development committee July 20.

USL to Portland is looking at the possibility of building a professional soccer stadium at Preble Field, a city-owned field by Back Cove. The hope is to have a site selected and stadium in place by spring 2023 when the USL League One team is set to start its inaugural season. Contributed rendering / USL to Portland

The committee stopped short of recommending moving forward on one of the stadium sites, saying it needs more information on both before it can make a recommendation to the City Council.

“I am encouraged and optimistic about the sense of excitement from the (committee members) in general for this opportunity based on the two sites proposed,” Johnson-Hoffman said Tuesday. “We remain committed to evaluating both options. We are here to bring professional soccer to the city at whatever site is best.”

Former Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell, who is consulting with the city on the project, said the two sites were the only locations in the city that met the criteria USL to Portland was looking for.

“There are no viable options under private ownership that would meet the requirements for the stadium,” he said. “That’s why is driving us to the two city locations.”

Both sites come with challenges.

While a new stadium would not have to be built at Fitzpatrick, additional stands, concessions and a locker room and press box building would be needed. A field that meets professional soccer standards would also have to be installed, meaning the running track would have to be relocated. USL to Portland has recommended relocating the track and constructing a new artificial turf field at either Payson Park or Dougherty Field. The city would retain ownership of Fitzpatrick Stadium; the soccer team would rent the field but also share in the revenue generated.

Hoffman-Johnson is looking into deed restrictions on Preble Field, which was a gift to the city, that could preclude its use. A stadium would have to conform with the the Back Cove South wastewater storage facility now being built under the site and would have to meet city land use codes. A bigger issue, Hoffman-Johnson said, is that the property may have to be removed from the Land Bank, a collection of city land that has been set aside as open space for its environmental, scenic, ecological or recreational value. A supermajority approval from the City Council would be needed to remove it. The franchise would be able to build a stadium and operate there through a low-cost, long-term lease from the city.

Still, Hoffman-Johnson said, a Preble Field stadium could be feasible.

Regardless of where the stadium goes, he said the stadium would be available for youth and adult recreation, high school athletics and other events such as festivals, concerts and outdoor hockey. The estimated $8 million to $10 million need to renovate Fitzpatrick Stadium and the $10 million to $12 million to construct a new stadium on Preble Street will be raised through private donations and not through tax dollars.

The Fitzpatrick location, Hoffman-Johnson said, has the support of Portland High School Athletic Director Lance Johnson and King Middle School Athletic Director Duke Madson, whose students are frequent users of Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Committee member Tae Chong said he favors the Fitzpatrick site for the soccer team and relocating the track to Dougherty Field, but fellow committee member Andrew Zarro said he intends to remain neutral until hearing more from the community.

Hoffman-Johnson said the USL to Portland team is working on coming up with a public outreach process now and hopes to be before the economic development committee again in late summer or early fall for further discussions.

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