Quotes: U.S. Soccer National Training Center press conference

Opening remarks…
Robb Heinemann: I’m honored to have such a distinguished panel of guests here with me: Governor Sam Brownback, [Kansas City, Kansas] Mayor Mark Holland, David Brain with Entertainment Properties (EPR Properties) and Gary Henry, CEO of Schlitterbahn. This is something we’ve been working on for a couple years—the notion of bringing a major U.S. Soccer presence to Kansas City. It was actually an idea that David Ficklin, [Sporting Club] Vice President of Development, came up with a couple years ago. It was akin to what we’ve been trying to do with the state of Kansas and the unified government since we first struck our deal with Sporting Park, and that was to deliver world class assets. When we had the opportunity to build Sporting Park, we wanted it to be the finest soccer stadium in America. When we thought about the next phase of the project, which was the development of the youth fields, we thought of how we could do that in a more special way than a standard youth fields project. The notion of trying to bring U.S. Soccer in as a partner through their development, their coaching education and their referee education was a primary target for us. To sit here today and have that in our sights as something that is going to happen here in Kansas City is just amazing. For us as soccer people, I thought that our World Cup mantra this year “For Club and Country” was great. Winning MLS Cups is wonderful and we’re going to win it again this year, but the greatest thing that could happen to us is for the U.S. National Team to win the World Cup. And that’s the singular goal that you want to have as a soccer nation—winning the World Cup. For us to be a player in that and have an asset like this in Kansas City is a huge thing. So on behalf of [Sporting KC owners] Cliff Illig and Neal Patterson, this is a great honor for us. This gives me the chills to have the opportunity to do this in Kansas City.

Sam Brownback: This is a fabulous, phenomenal facility. I think it lets us, as a region, lay claim to being the epicenter of soccer in the United States. It’s a sport that’s growing rapidly in this country by viewership, by attendance and by interest. And we’re right at the center of it. I can’t compliment Sporting KC enough for what they have done in rocketing forward the ascendancy of soccer in this country and in this area. Because of that, U.S. Soccer saw all that and said, ‘We want to see that affinity put on U.S. Soccer, and we want to come and be a part of that.’ To have this national training center here is phenomenal. It’s an asset that will yield to this community for a long time to come. It has over $1 billion of projected economic impact. Sports is the front window for a community. To have soccer being here and so well-represented is a beautiful front window for us to show this country and the world. I’m very enthusiastic about it. It’s a beautiful project that you’ll see a lot of in the future. The state of Kansas is delighted to be a part of this partnership.

Mark Holland: On behalf of the unified government commission, we’ve been committed to bringing world class, destination tourism to Kansas City, Kansas. Kansas City, Kansas has already built a development out west that is the No. 1 tourist destination in the region. Then Cerner came with a proposal to build two new office towers and bring 4,000 high-quality jobs, a world class soccer facility, soccer opportunities in the urban core with the futsal program—which is on the cutting edge in the country in terms of you people being active in the sport of soccer—and a tournament center which would give young people a place to raise the level of soccer in our region, drive additional people to our community and give them an opportunity to see all the benefits and amenities here in Kansas City, Kansas. And U.S. Soccer brings the package to a whole new level. It also brings our soccer fields closer to The Legends, which will give young people something to aspire to. Soccer is the world’s game; it’s the beautiful game, and it’s growing in this country. Young people now have something to aspire to—they have world class Major League Soccer right here in Kansas City, Kansas. They have tournament fields to play on, and they’ll see the national training center and they’ll say, ‘I want to represent this community, I want to represent this country in winning the World Cup.’ Having the opportunity to bring this world class asset to Kansas City, Kansas is terrific. I want to thank Cerner and Sporting for their continuing partnership with the state. This is going to raise the caliber for our whole community to another level. I also want to echo something from the Governor. If you ask any university about the impact of their sports programs on enrollment, it’s huge. Sports success drives enrollment at universities. Sports success drives the profile for our entire community and region. Having the success of this Sporting facility here and now with U.S. Soccer, it continues to raise the profile of our community and continues our transformation of Kansas City, Kansas.

David Brain: We’re the financial partner with the Henrys and the Schlitterbahn organization. We have a quadrant of land on the east side of Highway 435 between State Avenue and Parallel Parkway. On behalf of the Henrys and the Schlitterbahn organization, I want to say thank you. With pride, we welcome the United States National Team Development Center for the world’s game, and for America’s game of the 21st Century, to the home of the MLS champion in the heart of America. As recently publicized, the Henrys and EPR Properties are planning further substantial development on that quadrant of land to go along with this terrific complex. Much of it will be in simultaneous development very soon. We hope to have many more announcements. But for now, it’s U.S. Soccer’s and Sporting’s night.

On the development of The Legends area over the last 10 years…
Brownback: I don’t know if you can find another situation in America like this. This is an unusual partnership, but it’s worked and it’s worked very well. I think it’s going to work very well into the future.

Holland: To see this development come from a site that generates $650 million annually in sales and represents a 10-percent valuation of our county, this has given us a tool where we can continue to attract world class amenities. If it hadn’t been for the racetrack and for The Legends and for Nebraska Furniture Mart, Cerner might not have been interested in this area and Sporting KC might not have wanted to build here. But it’s because of the synergy with the T-Bones and all the different things we have in this area that has made it a destination site not only for tourists but for other businesses. We hope to continue that into the future.

Heinemann: We always talk about Sporting Park, and obviously Sporting Park has won many awards and it’s a beautiful building. But the thing to me that’s the most beautiful part of Sporting Park are the people that fill it. And I think you can say that about Village West broadly. The great thing about Kansas Citians is that they believe in themselves, they embrace local and they built this; they made this happen. The fact that we as business owners get to hang some flowers on it is a cool thing, but it’s Kansas City that makes this place so special. And now because of what they’ve done here in the stadium, it gives us the opportunity and the ability to go out and host U.S. Soccer. That’s just incredible; it’s an amazing thing. So I’m going to be happy for the little eight-year-olds and 10-year-olds and 15-year-olds who get to come out and see the national team train. What an awesome opportunity.

On when the training center could be completed…
Heinemann: The biggest thing that we want to do is have it open for the COPA America in 2016. And we’d love to be a major training site for teams in 2016 for not only the U.S. but I think we’d like to talk to teams like Brazil, Argentina and Chile and some of those and see if we could have them in residence. That’ll probably mean we will start moving dirt this fall. To be candid with you, we haven’t done a lot design yet and the reason we haven’t is because we want to try and have the best partners with a lot of attributes inside of this thing. From the sports science perspective, we want this to be the most advanced facility in the United States. And we don’t really have the acumens to do that today, so we’re going to have to do that through partners. So that’s what we’re working on now—to make sure we have all the best partners to make this truly a success and the facility we want. But [the goal is] definitely having it open by 2016 for Copa America.

On partnering with U.S. Soccer…
Heinemann:
The name recognition means everything. Originally, this was just going to be a youth complex. Going after U.S. Soccer—that’s two different things. The piece I don’t want to be overlooked by U.S. Soccer in this whole thing is the coaching education piece. I think you need to look no further than the past World Cup. The blueprint Germany put out there was they had a unified vertical approach to how they were going to go after the game, and a huge foundation infrastructure piece of that is the coaching education. For us to have that here in Kansas City is great. It’s not only great from an economical development perspective, is it going to be fantastic just having that curriculum here. Having the national team here obviously will be very special, and the facility will have the sorts of qualities and attributes that will make it very tough for them to not be here. From a sports property perspective right now, who has a more positive trend in this country, regardless of sports? U.S. Soccer and I think the trend is rising, and the great thing is we have two of best players in U.S. Soccer that play here every night. So that’s a good additive feature as well.

On the economic impact the training center will have on Kansas City, Kansas…
Holland: The Legends now has over 1,000 jobs, Cerner with 4,000, the casino with nearly 1,000 jobs. The jobs that this has brought to our community have been exponential. In fact, Wyandotte County was listed at 46 out of the 300 largest counties in the nation for job growth, in large part because of the continuing investment and reinvestment. The jobs are big. The other piece from the Kansas City, Kansas perspective is the opportunity to bring more visitors into our destination area to go to Schlitterbahn, to go to the Legends, to go to soccer games, to go to T-Bones games, to go to NASCAR races, to spend money in the community. And turning those dollars over in the community is what economic growth is all about. It’s also big for the housing market. There are new apartments going up, the first new apartments in Wyandotte County in 40 years. And they are at the top of the market in the metro area in terms of rent because people want to live up here. And that economic development is because of all the amenities that we have assembled here now. So the average Kansas City, Kansan is seeing a huge benefit and we are also seeing the tax revenues that are coming with it. And the growth, it’s just continuing.

On how Sporting Park helped Kansas City land the training center…
Heinemann:
We always knew this building was going to give us a shot. It was always going to give us a bunch of non-traditional fans out here. The responsibility was on the team on the field to try to move the meter, and that kind of hit that tipping point. Thankfully for us, we’ve got a brilliant manager and a great team, and things have worked out pretty well. It’s amazing to me—you just see the amount of Sporting logos around Kansas City and the amount of gear, and its just such a different world from what it used to be for us. It’s a great thing to see and that really was the tipping point. The stadium made it happen. 

On how Kansas City continues to push the soccer envelope…
Heinemann: I just think the reputation that soccer in Kansas City has developed is pretty incredible. And I think this whole branding thing we’re doing about being the Soccer Capitol of America means something. The fact that we’re going to have tens of thousands of coaches coming here to do their coaching education for A, B, and C licenses is huge. This is going to be huge for them, not only from a coaching and refereeing perspective, but also having this asset available for the national team. So I think we just keep trying to push the edge of the envelope here in Kansas City, and I think this asset is just going to be a tremendous assistance in that.

On how the training center will help inspire kids…
Heinemann:
It’s that aspirational thing for kids. And that’s what this is going to provide for them. First of all, it’s going to be an unbelievable place for them to play. I would anticipate that we will have youth championships out at the National Training Center, and maybe those championships will be played here at Sporting Park. So I just think the aspirational opportunities for kids in this community are going to be incredible. I think the community will rally around it. As great as it is seeing a Graham Zusi or Matt Besler on the field, when they’re walking off the field and they stop and talk to a kid and shake the kid’s hand and sign an autograph for them, those are the things you remember as a kid. That’s the experiential thing that matters and we’re going to have all kinds of opportunities for kids like that in this community.

Holland: For the kids in Kansas City, Kansas that Sporting and Cerner promised from day one to build fields in the urban area. We are doing 10 futsal courts, and if you’re not familiar with futsal, it’s a tennis court that’s converted to soccer and kids play pickup 5 vs. 5 or 3 vs. 3. It’s a much smaller court and it’s good for foot skills. To have these scattered throughout our community—we have a lot of tennis courts in our area that aren’t’ being used and some that are being used and we are preserving those. But the ones that aren’t being used, they already converted at Wyandotte High School and the place is packed with kids waiting in line. It’s branded with blue for Sporting KC and they’re playing futsal every day. They’re learning the foot skills and getting excited about soccer. If you drove out there tonight, there would be a line outside of Wyandotte High School playing outside.

 

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