By Doug Sams and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on March 13, 2015
Atlanta’s Major League Soccer team has launched a search for a site to house its new training facility — a project that could galvanize an urban community and become a magnet for the world’s most talented players.
The site could range from a minimum of 15 acres with four fields to as many as 40 acres with more than a dozen fields, said Darren Eales, the former English Premier League executive hired last year as MLS Atlanta president.
MLS Atlanta hopes to identify a site somewhere in metro Atlanta by later this year. Officials hope the training facility would be easily accessible to the new $1.4 billion downtown stadium. Ideally, it would also be located along a MARTA line. The team wants to begin construction in time to finish the project by late 2016.
Its first season in Atlanta would start in March 2017 in the new stadium spearheaded by Falcons and MLS Atlanta owner Arthur Blank.
A “dream” scenario would involve a site that could echo the philosophy of the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, also known as the Spurs, founded more than 130 years ago in London.
Eales said Tottenham is the model for player development. “We want to develop the best players,” he said. “We want to develop home-grown players. Fans love them.”
Another model is the training center for the Seattle Sounders FC, which has won the U.S. Open Cup four times. Its training center features several fields and a small stadium available for community use.
“A soccer club is the heart of the community,” Eales said. “It’s a beacon for people of the area.”
MLS Atlanta has hired the commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield to lead its search for a site.
The team will be led by Cushman & Wakefield’s Matt Hawkins and Pierce Owings.
Eales did not rule out the possibility of the 165-acre former General Motors plant in Doraville.
Atlanta-based developer Integral Group, led by Egbert Perry, plans to turn the plant into a “city within a city” on the Perimeter, with a connection to the Doraville MARTA station and a mix of towers, stores, plazas and parks.
Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, said team executives are familiar with the GM plant, having toured it before when the Falcons were considering sites for their new stadium.
Another possibility is Fort McPherson near East Point, where filmmaker Tyler Perry plans to build a movie studio. Perry has a contract to buy 330 of the fort’s 488 acres for $30 million, but the deal keeps getting postponed. Fort McPherson also features access to MARTA.
How much the team plans to invest in the training facility remains uncertain. McKay said the hope is to develop a public-private partnership. It could end up being a matter of “who wants us,” McKay said. “It has got to be viewed as a community asset.”
Last year, the LA Galaxy announced it was investing $15 million to improve its StubHub Center, including training facilities for the Galaxy’s player development programs.