Columbus Crew SC’s season is in the books but the team continues to train despite no upcoming games on the schedule. The Black & Gold held one of its final media availabilities of the year on Monday at the team’s practice facility in suburban Obetz, Ohio. According to comments from team president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, this could be one of the last times Columbus trains at the facility, where Columbus has practiced since 1997.
“The lease expires at the end this year and there’s no plans as of right now, nothing firm that we’re going to be here,” Bezbatchenko said.
The prospect of leaving Obetz was first raised in July when a Columbus Dispatch story reported that the village made renewing the lease at the facility contingent on having the Cleveland Browns, owned by new Crew co-owners Haslam Sports Group, hold a mini-camp at the municipality’s Fortress Obetz stadium. The Browns balked at the request, committing to a youth camp at the site.
Any renewal would be a short-term solution. The team’s current home, MAPFRE Stadium, is slated for redevelopment as a combination city sports facility and training ground, as the Crew will move to its new downtown stadium in 2021.
Initial plans for the team’s current stadium include reconfiguring the current MAPFRE Stadium site to become the new training facility and adding additional training fields and a suite of team offices. The plan would combine the team’s administrative and technical staff in a single location, something the Black & Gold have never had.
At the team’s stadium groundbreaking, co-owner Dr. Pete Edwards said the team will be releasing renderings soon for the site plan to move the project forward. He also stated his desire to play a few home games at the current MAPFRE Stadium site in 2021 before the new stadium opens in mid-summer.
Bezbatchenko reiterated the need for a permanent home on Monday. “The quicker we can move into our new training facility at MAPFRE, the better. But we have to be prepared for next season.
“We’re speaking to a number of groups that are excited about having us. Whether that’s local colleges or high schools, we are looking at various options.”
There are few options in the area that would match the team’s current facility at Obetz but any alternate option would be shared with other teams. In prior years, the Crew has trained at Ohio Dominican University’s Panther Stadium for a handful of early dates, but scheduling is challenging with a facility shared by the university’s football and men’s and women’s soccer programs.
Sharing a training ground with other colleges or high schools would face similar challenges.
Obetz faces an uncertain future without the Crew. The departure of the Black & Gold would make for the second sports team to exit the village in 2019. Fortress Obetz’s main tenants were the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse but the team contracted in April. The village has brought in high school football games and weekend tournaments to the site, but now face having two sports facilities without dedicated tenants.
The long term future looks bright, but the Crew has a rapidly advancing deadline to settle on a site for 2020. The Black & Gold’s training camp opens in January and the regular season begins in late February, the earliest opening weekend in league history.