The sun shined down on Columbus Crew SC fans today.
The brilliant skies above matched the bright future of the club below as the team formally broke ground on the new downtown stadium that will root the team in the city for years to come.
Crew legend and emcee Kyle Martino echoed the sentiments of the fans that crowded around platform as he stood on stage with Crew owners, Columbus politicians and MLS commissioner Don Garber: “I can’t begin to tell you how much this means to me today,” with the future stadium pitch and the downtown skyline visible over his shoulder.
The sight of the assembled dignitaries and team leaders was a long way from two years ago when word leaked that the team would look to move to Austin if stadium solution couldn’t be reached. Former ownership was unable to make the connections in the city during their five years running the club. Prospects of a new stadium looked very bleak.
The path from nearly losing a team to securing its long-term future wound through a groundswell of vocal support, the league reconsidering Columbus, and former ownership moving out of the picture as a new group reinvigorated discussions on the team’s stadium situation.
City Council President Shannon Hardin underscored the hard work to get to a groundbreaking, “We are here for one reason, Columbus’s can do attitude.” Hardin cited how the city and the team worked together to get the stadium deal done.
Franklin County Commissioner Marylin Brown echoed Harden’s comments, “This is what makes the community great, it’s all of us coming together”
Ohio’s Lt. Governor, Jon Husted said the state took notice of the Save The Crew movement, “Elected officials are good a listening at mobs of people telling to fix things.”
Save the Crew gear was well represented in the 4,296 fans that attended the groundbreaking according to the team.
Husted then looked to the future, “It’s going to be a lot of fun when Cincinnati comes here.” calling out the Black & Gold’s newest rivals, adding “It’s going to be a lot more fun when Austin comes here,” which drew louder cheers from the fans.
On the eve of the groundbreaking, the team announced that they plan to expand their investment in the project by $70 million. They now plan to spend $300 million in an effort to build the best stadium in North America.
With the increased investment, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther believes the stadium is a worthy investment for the city, citing a $6.5 million increase in income tax revenues and the new sports park that will be developed at the MAPFRE Stadium site.
Ginther preached the Columbus Way, commenting “We can achieve great things when we work together,” a comment brought on a shout of, “You hear that Don?” from a Nordecke member, directed toward the MLS Commissioner.
Garber received a cool welcome, with much of the Nordecke turning their back on the head of the league during his comments. But Garber pressed on, citing the Columbus situation as the toughest and most rewarding of his professional career.
Thanking Columbus Partnership President Alex Fischer and Mayor Ginther during his comments, Garber made it clear that without a committed civic partner, the prospects of saving the team were dim in the eyes of the league.
Fischer, perhaps the most critical person instrumental in getting to this moment, wasn’t on stage, content to work behind the scenes, or in this case, among the VIPs assembled in the front row.
Investor-Operator Dee Haslam had a message for the fans: “We know how important this sport is to this community” before getting serenaded with her own supporters chant. Haslam replied with admiration and respect, “To all of you, the supporters, thank you”
Fellow Investor-Operator Dr. Pete Edwards summed up the day. A life long resident captured the essence of the city with his closing remark, “In Columbus we dream big, and only in Columbus we achieve bigger.”
The simple act of turning over a few shovels of dirt of is a bigger achievement than anyone could have dreamed two years ago.