Soccer mogul Roger Faulkner backs Detroit MLS plan


Roger Faulkner, who founded the most prominent soccer team to play in Michigan to date, said he was impressed by the $1-billion plan unveiled Wednesday in downtown Detroit by Dan Gilbert — in partnership with Pistons owner Tom Gores — to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Detroit.

Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, unveiled plans for a 20,000-25,000 capacity soccer-specific stadium to be built on the site of the unfinished Wayne County jail site at Gratiot and hopes to land an MLS team as early as 2020.

Faulkner, a key member of the Detroit World Cup host committee in 1994, was a former general partner and executive director of the Detroit Express, which played in the North American Soccer League in 1978-80. He referred to Gilbert and Gores as the “two fairy godfathers” the local soccer community has been waiting on for over two decades.

Faulkner said he was impressed by “the scope of the whole package” laid out by Gilbert and Arn Tellem, vice chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment, along with MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Faulkner said the proposal goes “way beyond soccer.” The proposed stadium would bring other developments, including restaurants, hotels and a commercial office tower to the Gratiot site.

“It’s dynamic in what it does for the city of Detroit,” Faulkner said. “It would be absolutely phenomenal. I think the (stadium) design was obviously very preliminary in many respects, but as a concept it was a phenomenal presentation and very, very exciting.”

It will take a lot of work for Gilbert and Gores to realize their dream of bringing an MLS team to Detroit. Their plan calls for relocating the current Wayne County Jail, Frank Murphy Hall of Justice and Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility to Mound Road. Gilbert recently offered $50million to the county for the unfinished jail site.

The county has sunk $150million into the stalled project. Wayne County executive Warren Evans said Wednesday he needed a guarantee that any future jail would not cost county taxpayers more than the plans already under development to finish the jail at Gratiot.

“Warren Evans has to do the right thing by the citizens of Wayne County, but you have to believe this is such an extraordinary proposal that somehow or other they will find a way around the problems of relocating the jail,” Faulkner said. “If not, I’m sure there are other sites in Detroit. I can’t imagine that either Garber or the investors would walk away from this thing.”

Garber, though, seemed intent on the jail site, saying it was key to Detroit’s expansion bid.

Faulkner listened with great interest to Garber’s comments about working with the local soccer community and finding a way to integrate Detroit City FC and the Michigan Bucks.

The Bucks, founded in 1995, play in the Premier Development League, which is considered the top developmental men’s league in North America. Detroit City FC, founded in 2012, plays in the National Premier Soccer League. The PDL and NSPL are sanctioned by the U.S. Adult Soccer Association.

Faulkner, who said he has done some consulting for Detroit City FC, said he thought MLS would do well in Detroit. But he said it is critical that Garber, Gilbert and Gores get the City FC and Bucks fans on board.

Faulkner said there’s no love lost between the fans of those soccer clubs.

“So how you harness them all around the MLS club, that’s going to be a good trick,” Faulkner said. “There’s four years to do it, so I guess it can be done.”

SourceDetroit Free Press