Port Covington. Rendering courtesy Sagamore Development.

The organization that agreed to study the feasibility of a 10,000-seat soccer stadium and academy in Baltimore, touted last year as a possible addition to Port Covington, has withdrawn from pursuing the project.

Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) executive vice president Gary McGuigan told its board Tuesday that the organization that proposed the stadium last year has asked the state agency to cancel a $62,000 study it agreed to work on to see if the project is feasible.

“They’re asking us not to proceed with the study and wished the city well,” McGuigan told the board members.

The cancellation request came from the London-based Right to Dream organization, “advising the MSA that they are no longer pursuing a venue in Baltimore,” McGuigan said in an email message after the meeting. The stadium authority had not begun its study, he added.

McGuigan said the stadium authority is still moving ahead with a second soccer-related study in Baltimore. That $50,000 study, approved last May, involves a market and economic analysis and a “site fit” analysis of possible sites in the Baltimore area for a “multi-use soccer stadium” that would be operated by the D. C. United organization for a future affiliate team.

The D. C. United plays in Washington’s Audi Field and plans to remain there. The proposed stadium would be for a feeder team that would play in MLS Next Pro, a new soccer league. Maryland’s Department of Commerce asked the stadium authority, on behalf of D. C. United, to analyze sites in the Baltimore metro area for a multi-use soccer stadium, with the state and the team splitting the cost of the study. A report is expected this year.

The study that is not proceeding was requested by Mayor Brandon Scott and endorsed by the stadium authority in July.

At the stadium authority’s meeting that month, Al Tyler, vice president of the Capital Projects Development Group, told the board that Scott wanted the agency to analyze the feasibility of constructing a soccer stadium somewhere in Baltimore City. Tyler said Scott wanted the state to pay one third of the study’s cost, with the city paying the rest, and the board voted 4 to 0 to approve his request.

Tyler said Scott did not have a specific site in mind for the stadium but wanted the Port Covington renewal area in south Baltimore to be one of the areas considered.

“The stadium will host an organization by the name of Right To Dream as its primary tenant,” Tyler said. “Right to Dream follows an academy-style model that uses soccer as a means to provide educational and athletic opportunity to under-privileged children. It’s very similar to the…IMG Academy,” a boarding school in Bradenton, Florida, that offers academic classes and sports training.

The academy “operates on a campus, which usually includes residential and academic buildings as well as a multi-purpose stadium,” Tyler said. “The other thing that the stadium is envisioned to host is a men’s and a women’s USL [United Soccer League, North America’s largest professional soccer organization] professional team that Right to Dream has the exclusive rights to operate.”

In a letter sent to Mayor Scott last fall, Right to Dream founder and CEO Tom Vernon said his organization concluded it wasn’t able to meet certain deadlines it had for opening a stadium and academy in Baltimore.

“Right to Dream has a mission through football to expand the way people see excellence,” he wrote. “In early 2021, our organization started to explore opportunities to establish a U.S.-based operation in partnership with a local community. The goal was to bring a professional soccer franchise, stadium, academy and educational offering rooted in community engagement, sporting success, and social change through soccer. With that in mind, we secured an expansion agreement with the USL and viewed the City of Baltimore as a potential community to collaborate with in nurturing more opportunities for its boys and girls.

“The fundamentals in accomplishing these goals included establishing the necessary public and private investments for a sustainable franchise to be operational by the inaugural season of 2025,” he continued.

“During the past eighteen months, we pursued various discussions to achieve these goals with local stakeholders. While these discussions were positively received, establishing the agreements towards facilitating a startup by 2025 (e.g. timelines for the economic feasibility study, authorization of funding agreements, and estimated construction schedules) has proved more challenging and costly than anticipated. As a result, we have decided to terminate our exclusivity agreement with the USL for the Baltimore market and will no longer pursue the stadium and academy option in Port Covington.

“Right to Dream is confident that our philosophy of supporting emerging excellence can flourish in the U.S.,” he said. “We will continue to explore options across America to give young, talented soccer players exciting opportunities to chase their dreams. We remain grateful to the USL, City of Baltimore, MSA and the Port Covington owners and developers, who have supported our endeavors over the past eighteen months.”

Monica Lewis, the mayor’s Senior Director of Communications, did not respond to a request for comment on Right to Dream’s decision not to pursue a project in Baltimore.

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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