Built in 1929, City Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in the US to serve as the home for a professional soccer team. What does its future hold?
Soccer in America is a wide tapestry of stadiums, clubs, and supporter groups. Markets that have embraced soccer across various formats and leagues for over 40 years, to new markets which just received their first professional or semi-pro team within the last five years. Teams play in baseball stadiums with less-than-ideal conditions, in NFL homes with football lines still glaring back at you, brand new soccer-specific stadiums, and retrofitted grounds from the past few decades. Amongst the myriad is City Stadium, home to the Richmond Kickers. Inside you’ll find history, passionate supporters, and an impressive pitch.
Ahead of the 2017 season, the club and the city agreed to a new 40-year lease for City Stadium, as the Kickers pledged to spend $20 million over that time period renovating the ground.
As the Kickers embark on their first campaign in USL League One, I spoke with City Stadium Manager, Scott McGuire, to discuss the stadium’s recent upgrades and the future for the ground. (Note: Since our original interview, Scott has moved from Richmond to join DC United.)
Beautiful Game Network: This is your third season with the Kickers. Were you brought on after the new lease was approved and this large new project was undertaken?
Scott McGuire: Yes. From 2008 through 2016, I worked for Real Salt Lake in MLS, across a variety of roles – grounds, events, and stadium. We moved to the area around the time frame Richmond was looking to make this investment, and it seemed like a very intriguing opportunity.
BGN: The 40-year lease runs through 2057, with a $20 million investment. It must be exciting for the Kickers organization to embark on such a large project — working to basically rebuild this old stadium piece by piece.
SM: Definitely. How the lease is set up there are benchmarks — money wise — regarding how much needs to be spent by a certain date. The vision the club has is very exciting, including discussions around what the end goal looks like.
BGN: The lease allows for the city to host high school football games at City Stadium. How often has that happened so far? How often do you think it will be going forward?
SM: So far, it has only been one game each year, in early December. Other than that, we’ve hosted a city youth league event, which is just about 10 hours of action on the pitch. There hasn’t been any further interest yet to extend beyond the single football game, but as the grounds keep getting nicer in the years to come, we could see more interest.
BGN: Stage 1, which was required to be completed by 2020, includes improvements to the landscaping, fencing, parking lot, seating, and the field (including irrigation). Most of that has already been completed and you are installing new team benches. What, if anything, is left from Stage 1 that needs to be completed during 2019?
SM: Nothing. For the league, we updated the field board, the team benches, and the goals. Phase 1 is mostly done, except possibly a few more minor items to be completed during the season.
BGN: Stage 2, which is required to be completed by 2030, includes improvements to the concourse, signage, stadium lighting, locker rooms, restrooms, adding a scoreboard, more seating enhancements, and a major overhaul to the parking lot. Some improvements were already made in the offseason to what is called Stage 2, correct?
SM: Yes. We don’t have to put X amount into certain categories. It’s really more about a discussion with ownership and the group about where do we want to go. Even discussing the items we did this year, such as the parking lot, fencing, and murals were a collective effort. The locker room is a personal labor of love. We put in new flooring, more storage, redid the training room, making it more functional. It’s really about giving the players a place that they want to be before and after training. We installed new TVs, and now some of the players stick around to watch matches.
BGN: Does the club have an updated target date for any of the Stage 2 items to be completed prior to 2030, or is that still realistic at this point? Some of the Stage 2 items offer noticeable improvements for game day fans – is there a priority to that list?
SM: Just like the process for the Stage 1 updates, it’s really down to listening to fans and everyone involved in the organization. We have a large time frame to work with, but also a very big area which is covered by the lease. Thinking about where the entire project wants to go long term while also focusing on the fan experience. The GM of Mercedes Benz Stadium stated that his #1 priority (even in that massive and impressive stadium) was the bathrooms. So, how do we want to work within the existing spaces, with those great murals? Where do we want the team store to be long term, or how should it look?
— City Stadium (@CityStadium_RVA) April 27, 2019
BGN: Finally, Stage 3, which is required to be finished by 2050, includes more improvements to parking, the press box, additional seating, futsal courts, and replacement of the current restrooms.
SM: When you get that far down the road, you really have to look at what the end goal is. For instance, when considering the parking lot, if we pave the lot and then decide later to upgrade lighting and landscaping in the parking lot. The asphalt would need to be torn up and redone. The same thing with paving the concourse. We can’t do that until we have a final decision on things like plumbing and lighting, that would be required to be put down first. So it’s about mapping out everything. A lot has done since the new owners have been.
BGN: Obviously the East Stand will be a question on any Richmond fan’s mind. Plans for that side of the ground?
SM: At this point, it’s too far down the path to say anything definitively. Engineers and architects have been in to look at the existing structure to consider what is possible. But, what is the end game – suites, locker rooms, etc.? We really have a blank slate. It’s a huge undertaking, but it’s a focus for ownership, so I’d think within three to five years plans would start to come together.
The Richmond Kickers return home to the subject of this piece, City Stadium, for their next USL League One match on June 1st to take on league leaders North Texas SC.