A baseball stadium for soccer? We've all heard that one before.
I'll admit that when I first heard of the idea I believed it to be ridiculous. I kept laughing when Sporting Kansas City was forced to use a ballpark while their old home was being renovated and their new one was being built...and yes, I jeered the Puerto Rico Islanders for playing out of a former baseball stadium. And if I knew sooner that Portland Timbers was playing out of a ballpark, I probably would've laughed at that idea as well.
But now, maybe that idea isn't so far-fetched -- especially when it comes to Calgary. Recent news out of Edmonton has the city looking to build a larger soccer stadium, which had got me thinking -- if Calgary were to get a team again, where would they play?
One thing's for sure -- given my recent conversations with members of City Council while researching for a piece, City Council have bigger priorities than a soccer stadium (or a new arena, for that matter). McMahon? It was tried, and it failed miserably. So where else is left? The only obvious answer left to me was Foothills Stadium, which is just a stone's throw away from McMahon.
Yes, Virginia -- I know it's a baseball stadium. But given how well Portland has turned old PGE Park into Jeld-Wen Field, and given the financial situation of our city, I thought: why not?
The stadium, formerly known as Burns Stadium, was opened in 1966 and has seen the likes of A-Rod, A.J. Burnett and Omar Vizquel as Calgary Cannons before that team was shipped off to Albuquerque (cue the Simpsons jokes) in 2002. More recently, it was home to the Vipers, an independent league team. That team is currently on life support, and isn't looking likely to be returning any time soon.
Meanwhile, the stadium is being used by the University of Calgary's baseball club, as well as a number of local baseball groups. With that said in mind, could a soccer team potentially make its home at a renovated Foothills Stadium? The field dimensions certainly wouldn't pose a problem: the field is of the exact same size as Jeld-Wen's before renovation, and after dropping in a virtual MLS-standard size pitch on a Google map (see below), the shoe indeed fits.
View Proposed Foothills Stadium Renovation in a larger map
Seating currently has capacity for six thousand fans, situated on the northeast wedge. To accommodate more spectators, the east end could be extended (red box in the above map) towards the parking lot. Facilities for the team would be located under that stand (or relocated to the south side, along with fan facilities. Catering can be handled by Calgary's growing fleet of food trucks, of which spaces in the east end can be allocated for them.
Transportation is a non-issue: the stadium is close to the C-Train line, which has been used to connect football fans from downtown (and other points) to McMahon in less than 20 minutes for over three decades. Parking is ample, and the park is within walking distance of Motel Village. It checks off almost all the metaphorical boxes in the soccer stadium checklist.
Plus, it is expandable (blue box) -- the stadium could easily be converted to a soccer-specific stadium by building the west stand over the current outfield. The baseball diamond in the northwest corner could be moved slightly to the west, and built into a smaller facility to house any baseball teams and programs. (Seaman Stadium south of the city in Okotoks is also available, if necessary)
While the plan would definitely be cheaper than building a brand new stadium, there are some concerns: first, the city already has a new plan for the entire area, and there's also an expansion of the nearby 24th Avenue/Crowchild Trrail interchange. But with any government plan, they're made to be changed: the east end could be kept at its current height to not infringe on the land needed for the interchange, while deft negotiations with City Council could win concessions in the new master plan.
All this needs now is a team. It definitely won't be an MLS team to start; any moves towards that league would need to be gradual -- but for a city of a million plus people, with the soccer talents that have come out of it so far, it certainly could support a team playing out of an expanded Foothills Stadium. It certainly beats playing at McMahon Stadium again!
So...any rich Calgarians interested in chipping in a few bucks to make this all a reality, team and renovations and all? City Hall is waiting for you to make the first move -- and we are waiting for you too.