Born of controversy, Swope Soccer Village burnishes KC area reputation in the sport

After the construction of Swope Soccer Village
After the construction of Swope Soccer Village Courtesy of Kansas City.

The new Swope Soccer Village will be another jewel in Kansas City’s crown as the soccer capital of the United States, say those who have been working to bring it to fruition.

With six synthetic-turf fields and three natural-grass surfaces, lights, spectator stands and a press box, locker rooms, restrooms, a concession stand and more, the new complex inside Swope Park is a world-class addition to the burgeoning local soccer scene.

What’s more, after the sometimes-controversial expenditure of $13.4 million by the city, the complex is designed to be self-sustaining going forward, with revenue from rentals paying for operations and upkeep.

Swope Soccer Village is a public-private partnership, serving as the training site for the Sporting Kansas City professional club and its amateur affiliates while providing plenty of pitches for local youth and adult teams as well as visiting tournaments.

Kansas City has contracted with the reigning MLS champions to operate the complex, and Sporting, in turn, has arranged for the Heartland Soccer Association to handle the rental and scheduling part of the business.

The complex is sold out of evening and weekend slots for the fall season even before Friday’s grand opening. It is located just south of 63rd Street on either side of Lewis Road.

“It’s arguably going to be the nicest all-turf sports complex in the world. It’s a world-class facility,” said Shane Hackett, Heartland Soccer’s executive director. “I grew up playing at Swope. I’m 50 years old, and it’s like a dream come true to see the fields transformed.”

The Swope Soccer Village partners believe demand for the new fields will continue for the foreseeable future.

“If we could have had additional fields, we could have filled those, as well,” Hackett said. “No doubt Kansas City is a leader in the pro and youth games. Many sources are citing Kansas City as having the largest youth soccer league in the United States.”

Heartland brings together 172 different soccer clubs made up of 1,200 teams in the four-state area of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Teams from 12 different states will play in tournaments at Swope this fall.

The Big 12 and other college tournaments also are scheduled to play on Swope’s championship field over the next several years.

David Ficklin, vice president for development of Sporting KC, said the club did four different economic studies as it worked on what turned out to be Sporting Park, “and every one of them showed the area needs at least 200 fields to meet the demand for youth, recreational and competitive adult play. So when we bring six synthetic fields to the market, that’s just a drop in the bucket.”

Sporting KC and its feeder clubs practice on two side-by-side grass fields, while the third grass pitch is the championship field flanked by grandstands seating 1,500, a press box and locker rooms.

Sporting KC took over land that was once the Kansas City Chiefs practice field and a nearby building used by the NFL team before Arrowhead Stadium opened in 1972.

Mayor Pro Tem and 5th District At-Large Council member Cindy Circo has been the driving force behind Swope Soccer Village.

She led the move to take about $11 million that had accumulated in the Winchester TIF district account, some of it originally intended to pay for sanitary sewers in the Swope Ridge neighborhood, and devote it instead to soccer.

Raytown school leaders objected to ending the TIF district in that way, saying Circo’s disbursement plan would cost the distsrict $4 million to which it was they were entitled. The city eventually backed down and paid Raytown its share of the funds, devoting the remainder to Swope Soccer Village.

Swope Ridge never got sewers, and its residents continue to rely on septic tanks.

Last month Circo defended the controversial move.

“If we spend a dollar of taxpayer money — whether from the general fund or not — I want to see how many of our major council priorities we can touch: youth, economic development, east of Troost,” she said.

“When I see a project using those dollars and touching multiple priorities like this one does, I know it’s a good one.”

While the new complex has what Circo called “uniqueness” and “cool factor,” it comes at a cost to users.

The Brookside Soccer Club had heretofore been renting the old Swope fields at minimal cost. This fall, it will have to charge each player a $20 surcharge to pay the $60-per-hour-per-field fees, said club executive director and former MLS player Nick Garcia.

Given its long history at the site, Brookside has been given first dibs on the new fields among youth leagues. It also gets the lowest rental rates. Other renters will pay up to $105-per-hour-per-field.

Even with the surcharge, Garcia said, Brookside will lose $20,000 to $30,000 this year because its budget did not account for the size of the increased fees. Brookside offers scholarships for players whose families face financial hardship.

“To ask families to pay the fee for field usage is quite a bit for a youth player,” Garcia said. “Some families have five kids playing. We will educate them and let them know they are getting a better field. We’re going from a dirt goat pasture to a very well-placed, high-performance soccer complex.”

Garcia said Brookside would pursue additional sponsorships and fundraising opportunities between now and next fall to help offset the increased costs of playing at Swope.

Swope Soccer Village rental fees will exceed those charged at the area’s other premier youth soccer venue, the 12-field Overland Park Soccer Complex, 13700 Switzer Road.

Circo noted that Overland Park’s complex is subsidized by a dedicated entertainment and hotel tax. And Heartland’s Hackett said Overland Park’s primary target audience is tournament play.

Plenty of tournaments are coming to Swope, too, and Circo and Ficklin said that gets to the economic benefit of the new complex.

“It’s great that people from Kansas City, Missouri, have gone to Overland Park and Lee’s Summit, but we want to get some of those games in Swope and let people see it,” Ficklin said.

“Then they can stop off at the zoo or see a show at Starlight and spend some money in Kansas City. It’s absolutely an economic development tool.”

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