by dan mccarney, sports reporter for the san antonio express news
april 12, 2013
The Scorpions had yet to leave the field after Wednesday's intrasquad scrimmage when a welding crew resumed work at Toyota Field. Less than three days remained until the soccer-specific stadium's grand opening, and time was of the essence.Heavy machinery remained scattered outside the 8,000-seat venue. A stack of trees awaited planting on the concourse. The paint had yet to dry in the home locker room, leaving silver streaks on the back of midfielder Pat Phelan's shorts.
By the time the Scorpions kick off against defending NASL champion Tampa Bay at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, everything should be finished but an elevator and some landscaping.
“The only things that won't be done are things people won't notice,” team president Howard Cornfield said.
Saturday's match marks the culmination of a 30-month process, beginning in October 2010 with the announcement that owner Gordon Hartman was bringing an NASL expansion team to San Antonio.
It's the second-division league's only soccer-specific venue, allowing the Scorpions to improve revenue capacity after spending their inaugural campaign as a tenant at Heroes Stadium.
“To build your own stadium in such a short time, that takes a big commitment and a lot of work,” NASL commissioner Bill Peterson said. “That's very impressive.”
Work began last spring, when people could see bulldozers moving dirt even as the Scorpions played in their temporary home across Thousand Oaks Drive in the former Alamo Quarry.
Some viewed the initial stages of construction as a show, meant to score public relations points not long after the failure of a measure to renovate Alamo Stadium for a potential competing third-division team.
Those close to Hartman said such cynicism wounded the self-made millionaire, who has pledged all profits from the franchise to special-needs charities.
If so, he declined the opportunity to gloat.
“People might have questioned my ability or commitment or desire, but I've never wavered,” Hartman said. “So I think my biggest satisfaction is that it's done. I think it's well beyond what the soccer community, and the community as a whole, was expecting.”
Hartman and Cornfield refused to reveal the final price for the privately funded stadium. A league source said a prospective NASL ownership group has drawn up plans for a 10,000-seat venue in a comparable market that would cost roughly $35 million.
Cornfield estimated costs exceeded the original plan by about 25 percent. Some of that, Hartman said, was overrun unavoidable for a project of such magnitude. But both said no expense was spared for amenities, from the number of speakers to the size of the video board that looms like a monolith over the north end of the stadium.
“We did add a lot of things ... but it's going to add to the experience,” Cornfield said. “When we brought (Hartman) an idea, even if it was more expensive, if we all agreed it would make for a better experience, he would approve it.”
Hartman also included the infrastructure to expand capacity up to 18,500 rather than push it back to a later phase.
“I could have cut costs,” Hartman said. “But I have every confidence we're going to expand this to the maximum.”
If so, the Scorpions greatly would enhance their chances to join Major League Soccer.
Hartman said the Scorpions evaluated roughly 20 soccer-specific stadiums before finalizing their plan.
The biggest complaint after last season was the distance from the field at Heroes Stadium, a high school football venue. As such, intimacy will be perhaps the defining feature at Toyota Field, where the farthest seat is only 60 feet from the sideline.
Phelan, a veteran of four MLS seasons with New England, said the new venue was a key reason he signed with the Scorpions this summer.
“These are the stadiums I want to play in,” he said when training camp began. “I'm really excited to get in there and see what it's like.”
Early impressions are positive. But more important than creature comforts is the stability Toyota Field affords the Scorpions.
“For a soccer fan who has been waiting years and years for professional soccer in San Antonio, this is probably the capstone event,” said James Hope, president of the Crocketteers supporters group.
“Gordon Hartman has brought us a home, an investment. He's committed to having professional soccer here, not just in the short term but the long term. It's a dream come true.”
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