by w. scott baily, reporter/project coordinator for the san antonio business journal
december 7, 2012
When Toyota Field opens in April, San Antonio could be a step closer to landing a Major League Soccer franchise.
Those charged with building and marketing the new stadium are convinced that the venue will also give the city an opportunity to attract large concerts and other outdoor entertainment events that have bypassed the area since Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in nearby Selma closed several years ago.
The new stadium, currently being constructed along Thousand Oaks Drive near Interstate 35 on the city’s far Northeast Side, will initially seat some 8,000 fans for soccer and as many as 14,000 concertgoers. Construction costs for Toyota Field have not been revealed.
There is stiff competition for entertainment events as agents and acts are looking to book shows in key markets with top-notch venues. The San Antonio market has been at a disadvantage, particularly with regard to outdoor events, since Selma, a northern suburb, lost its large amphitheater. But Toyota Field management believes it can bring some of that lost business back to the region, boosting the area’s economy and Morgan’s Wonderland, a special-needs theme park located next to the stadium.
Gordon Hartman, who spearheaded the development of Morgan’s Wonderland, owns the Scorpions soccer team and is leading the development of the new stadium. In September, he hired former Alamodome General Manager Marc Solis to manage the venue.
Solis has opened two new arenas, American Bank Center in Corpus Christi and Laredo Energy Arena. He says Toyota Field will attract events because of its design and its proximity to Interstate 35, which connects San Antonio with New Braunfels, San Marcos and Austin.
“We will fill a void,” says Solis about Toyota Field. “There are some shows that are designed to play outdoors, and we’re going to bring some of those back to the market. We’re going to bring events that otherwise would not be coming to San Antonio.”
Stadium management hopes to attract a variety of music events — from mid-size concerts to multi-act festivals.
Solis says Toyota Field officials have already begun to reach out to event promoters and booking agents and are interested in a range of entertainment — from rock concerts and country shows to boxing matches.
“We will look to bring some music festivals on a large scale that we haven’t had in this community,” Solis explains. “Over the course of time, we’ll find out which events work and which ones don’t. Those that do work, we’ll continue to do more of them.”
VENUE VOIDIn the spring of 2009, roughly two years after putting its Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in nearby Selma on the market, Live Nation finally found a buyer: Stream Realty.
The music venue, which hosted a variety of major acts and festivals, was eventually transformed into a church, leaving a large void in the market.
Hartman says Toyota Field, located north of Loop 410 and a few miles southeast of Selma, was designed as a soccer-specific stadium but with features and amenities that will allow it to host outdoor entertainment events as well.
“When I started this, a lot of people questioned whether I would make the financial commitment necessary to ensure that we could get the ... right kind of stadium,” Hartman says. “A lot of planning, a lot of work has been put into this.”
Jack Orbin, president of San Antonio-based concert promotion company Stone City Attractions Inc., warned when entertainment company Live Nation shuttered Verizon Wireless Amphitheater that the market would lose a number of shows. He met with Hartman and his architects before work began on Toyota Field, sharing ideas and explaining what it would take for the building to attract some of that lost concert business.
“I believe this can be a very viable venue,” Orbin says. “It can be a big plus for San Antonio.
“Hartman has grand plans for that venue,” he adds. “Certainly, we need it.”
Toyota Field will feature dressing, staging and production areas needed to support touring shows. It will also have a number of amenities Solis believes will attract soccer fans and concertgoers, including a beer garden, lounge area and 16 luxury suites.
The stadium can ultimately be expanded to accommodate 18,500 soccer fans — should San Antonio have an opportunity to move up to the MLS — and an even larger number of concertgoers.
Hartman created a unique operating model for the Scorpions. The franchise shares a portion of its revenues with Morgan’s Wonderland.
The stadium will operate similarly. The special-needs park will also receive a portion of revenues from Toyota Field.
“Toyota Field has been designed as a conduit to help support all of the programs that Morgan’s Wonderland has,” Solis says. “People who come to events at the stadium will know that the money they spend will help support Morgan’s Wonderland.
“I’ve talked to agents and promoters to let them know that this is more than just another stadium,” he adds. “A lot of people are intrigued by that and want to help out.”
Scorpions supporters are hopeful that the new stadium will help San Antonio land an MLS franchise.
“We’ve got to continue to build the brand and build the base of support,” Hartman says. “We’re not there yet, but I think we are moving in that direction.”
MLS officials have taken note of the Scorpions’ momentum.
“The Scorpions’ early success is very impressive and hopefully the start of something big for professional soccer in San Antonio,” says Chris Canetti, president of the Houston Dynamo, who recently lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2012 MLS Cup.
“We have always thought that San Antonio was a passionate soccer market, and the Scorpions’ success truly confirms that belief,” says MLS Executive Vice President Dan Courtemanche. “The success of the Scorpions is certainly being discussed throughout the soccer community — especially here at Major League Soccer.”
Solis says the Scorpions caught some fútbol observers by surprise.
“I think a lot of people underestimated San Antonio’s response to pro soccer last season,” he says. “This community embraced it from the first game and the momentum has continued.”
However, Hartman says a move up to MLS is not assured. It’s not clear when or where the league will look to expand.
The fate of the stadium, though, is not tied to MLS. Solis says the goal is to give the Scorpions a new soccer-specific stadium, complete with fan-friendly amenities, and to also provide San Antonians with an opportunity to enjoy a wider array of entertainment events.Read the Published Story Here