COLUMBUS, Ohio – The fire that damaged the speaker cabinets adjacent to the video display at Crew Stadium last weekend isn't an excuse for wholesale upgrades to Major League Soccer's first soccer-specific stadium. At least not yet.
"Once everybody got past the fact we had a fire and what that actually could have been, it starts you thinking maybe this is an opportunity to upgrade our scoreboard, which after 15 seasons would be nice," Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers told MLSsoccer.com.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, our video board is fully operational and we were able to salvage about half our speaker cabinets."
He's able to make light of the situation because no one was hurt and the game vs. D.C. United was played after a 51-minute delay to douse the flames, but the situation raised questions as to how much more money should be invested in the facility.
It was MLS' crown jewel when it opened in 1999 as the first soccer-specific stadium in the league, but has since been surpassed by the 12 others that followed.
"We would not have any if [Crew founder] Lamar Hunt had not built the first one here with Crew Stadium," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said at press conference here on Thursday.
However, the ownership has looked at sites for a new stadium. There have been no tangible plans, however, and Thursday's announcement by McCullers that there will be an upgrade to a portion of the seats in the 20,145-capacity stadium means the organization will work with what it has for now.
McCullers said 1,400 midfield seats in three sections on the east side (opposite the team benches) will be converted to chair-back from bleachers to match seating for the Center Circle Club on the other side, part of the team's effort to increase corporate and premium season tickets.
In turn, a healthier attendance could help attract long-sought naming rights to the stadium by a local company, and McCullers said it's a four-step process: introduction, presentation, evaluation and negotiation.
"We were in the evaluation stage with one company," he said. "That company has passed. We have a handful of other companies that are either in introduction or presentation stage. One is in evaluation stage. None are in the negotiation stage."
The Commissioner is anxious to strike a deal.
"This stadium deserves to have one of the great local companies that are such a big part of the economy here in central Ohio step up and put their name on this stadium," Garber said.
At the same time, the Crew are looking for a private-public partnership to invest in a new training facility to replace the one in Obetz that opened in 1997.
The team has been pursuing land at an interchange on I-71 about 20 miles north of downtown Columbus as one option.
"I'm still very hopeful," McCullers said. "There's still multiple conversations that are very realistic that could close this year. That has not been the case over the past four years."