A Portland City Council committee told a group proposing to bring a professional soccer team to the city that while it’s an exciting idea committee members will need more details before they would feel comfortable recommending a stadium site to the full council.

USL to Portland, the local group backing the proposal, has identified two potential stadium sites and appeared before the Housing and Community Development Committee Tuesday evening seeking direction on which one it should pursue.

USL to Portland said it will not seek taxpayer funding for a stadium, which is expected to cost $8 million to $12 million. Private investors will foot the bill, the group said in a statement issued after the meeting Tuesday evening.

Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, the founder and president of the local ownership group, is leading the effort to bring professional soccer to Portland. Hoffman-Johnson, a former professional soccer player, attended Falmouth High School and lives in Portland. The team would compete in USL League One, one of three divisions of professional soccer sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The divisions are separated by market size and stadium size with USL League One slotted in the smallest market division.

While members of the four-person council committee did not give Hoffman-Johnson’s group a definitive answer, they did express excitement about the proposal and encouraged USL to Portland to return to the committee with more details about the potential stadium sites: Fitzpatrick Stadium and Preble Street Field. Improvements would be needed at both sites for the Portland team to build a stadium with seating capacity for at least 5,000 fans at Preble Street and 7,000 at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The running track at Fitzpatrick Stadium would have to be relocated.

Once the committee has received more details it will weigh its choices and make a recommendation to the nine-member City Council, which has the final authority over where a soccer stadium would be located. Approval from the United Soccer League designating Portland as an expansion market is contingent on finding a permanent stadium, with the team’s inaugural season beginning as soon as March 2023. A name for the team has not been selected.

“I want to be clear that this committee has made zero decisions. It would not be accurate to say that we’ve chosen one location over another. We need more details on both sites before we can proceed in any form,” said Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, chairman of the committee.

“I’m excited and would support USL coming to Portland,” City Councilor Tae Chong said. He also noted that he prefers renovating Fitzpatrick Stadium. But to use Fitzpatrick Stadium, the track would have to be relocated to either Payson Park or Dougherty Field, an expense that would be borne by USL to Portland. Both properties are owned by the city.

USL to Portland would enter into a rental agreement with the city to facilitate redevelopment of Fitzpatrick Stadium. The project would upgrade the existing facility and maintain access to the facility for Portland schools and the community.

The Preble Street field, adjacent to Interstate 295, would be developed as a stadium with bleachers on three sides and would be constructed on top of the existing athletic field. The field would be leased by USL to Portland. Access to the Back Cove Trail would continue uninterrupted and a small field to the north of the stadium would be preserved as open space.

City Councilor Pious Ali said he enjoys playing soccer, quipping that a group of younger people told him he was too old to play.

“This is really exciting,” Ali said of the proposal. “Maybe, I can get to play soccer again.”

Councilor Andrew Zarro, one of the council’s newest members, said Tuesday’s presentation represented his first exposure to the proposal. Zarro described the Preble Street Field, which would abut the trail that loops around Back Cove, as being “politically sensitive.” The trail is used year-round by thousands of pedestrians, runners and bicyclists. Those uses would still be allowed under the plan presented by the USL group.

“I think it’s a cool, exciting idea,” Zarro said, adding that he will remain neutral until he can get a better sense of how the public feels about the potential stadium sites. There was no public comment allowed at Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

Thibodeau said there would be an opportunity for the public to weigh in at a future meeting, though he did not set a specific date.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the city to possibly have another pro sports team in town,” he said, referring to the Portland Sea Dogs, a minor league baseball team that plays its home games at Hadlock Field. Hadlock Field abuts Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Portland also is home to the Maine Celtics, an NBA G League team affiliated with the Boston Celtics, and the Maine Mariners, an ECHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins.

In a telephone interview after the council meeting, Hoffman-Johnson said there seems to be a “gray legal area” about using the Preble Street Field. He said the field is part of the city’s Land Bank and that it might have to be removed by a super-majority vote of the City Council, or eight of nine votes, if that site were chosen.

Hoffman-Johnson said both sites remain viable.

“I’m certainly optimistic about moving forward based on the feedback and guidance we got from the council,” he said.

In its proposal to the city, USL to Portland projects a soccer league franchise would create jobs for 20 front-office workers and 24 professional players.

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