Like any successful entrepreneur, Steve Malik has a “vision” for professional soccer in the Triangle. And that vision unfolding for the region led by Malik but with help of numerous other people is “compelling.” So says the exec Malik and company have to impress most: The head of Major League Soccer – who would be a “lead investor,” so to speak.
Malik’s entrepreneurial success combined with his love for soccer could bring a top pro soccer team to the Triangle as well as a new stadium. That’s quite a doubleheader challenge. It’s almost a classic “if you build it, they will come.” And Malik needs all his skillset as entrepreneur and business exec – idea, plan, build, execute, grow, make profitable – to pull this off.
So far, he appears to be hitting the right notes in his pitches.
Presentations on Wednesday show Malik’s entrepreneurial touch with plans for a stadium in downtown Raleigh. And he wants to do so with no taxpayer money.
Estimated cost is $150 million. No small change. Can Malike do the deal on this scale? (Malik sold Medfusion to Intuit for $91 million back in 2010 before buying it back. It’s safe to assume he has a nice net worth.)
The futuristic stadium also would be used for other entertainment and offer a mix of residential and retail uses. The News and Observer reports that the stadium would seat 22,000 – and offer much more: “conference center, 750,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of retail space, 1,200 residential units and at least 300 hotel rooms.”
And, right now, Malik is the headline attraction for investor interest. Neil Morris, Jeff Gravley and Candace Sweat for WRALSportsfan label Malik as the “spearhead” of the soccer effort.
“The facility is proposed for the grounds of the North Carolina state government complex, adjacent to Halifax Mall at the corners of North Salisbury Street and Peace Street,” they say. “The land is currently owned by the state. The proposed downtown stadium would house the North Carolina FC men’s soccer team and likely the North Carolina Courage of NWSL.”
In tech and entrepreneurship circles, Malik is best known for founding, building, selling, retiring and then reacquiring Cary-based Medfusion. With a management team he put in place at that venture, Malik turned toward his latest passion – soccer – by acquiring the Carolina Railhawks franchise.
He renamed the North Carolina FC (Football Club) and last December disclosed plans to acquire a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.
Making the pitch
The pitch for the stadium is part of a collective effort led by Malik and other Triangle community leaders to land a franchise with the proposed stadium an essential part of that pitch.
Like Malik has pitched investors (successfully) in the past, he is pitching MLS.
And like any entrepreneur, he used some “sizzle” to attract MLS investor interest in this region with a helicopter flyover of the proposed site (and two others) along with league president Mark Abbott. He also unveiled renderings and the preferred stadium site. He’s landed well-known real estate partners for the effort – Kane Realty, best known for the Raleigh North Hills renaissance and, the N&O reports, Billie Redmond, founder of TradeMark Properties.
“We’ve had more of a ‘what if’ dialogue,” Redmond told The N&O about talks with state government about leasing the state-owned land. “We’ve not asked them to give us a yes or no.”
To add spice, hundreds of fans turned out for a rally to show the soccer decision makers the sport’s appeal to this region.
But like any successful investor pitch, Malik also had to lay out economic data backing his pitch.
“Malik also shared the partial findings of an economic impact survey, commissioned by NCFC, that estimated an economic stimulus of $2 billion for Wake County and $1.5 billion for downtown Raleigh on jobs, wages, sales revenue and tax revenue over 17 years of facility construction and operation. The study predicted pro soccer could add 1,960 jobs in North Carolina, including 1,470 in Wake County, along with over $5 million in additional annual state, county and local tax revenue.”
Those kind of numbers are impressive, to say the least.
At this point, Malik looks to keep the venture in private hands.
“I haven’t asked for [public] funding,” Malik told WRALSportsfan. “But community support and being able to go through a process where you listen to your constituents and mold your final proposal for what’s best for the community, a number of things could happen. One of the things I’ve mentioned is infrastructure, parking and transportation. It’s dual use, particularly when you’re talking about a facility that’s going to have office space, ground-floor retail and living units in it, as planned.”
However, he’s keeping his options open – as any smart entrepreneur would. And Malik calls a possible use of Raleigh’s occupancy and prepared food and beverage taxes already earmarked for downtown development as “interesting.”
Malik has the support of what’s called the Triangle MLS Committee. It’s led by another tech entrepreneur – James F. Goodmon Jr., Capitol Broadcasting Company vice president who heads that committee. (CBC, the corporate parent of WRAL TechWire as well as WRAL TV, WRALSportsfan and WRAL.com, also is a very active investor in Triangle startup and emerging tech ventures.)
But a great amount of work remains to be done.
As WRALSportsfan notes: “Wednesday was about impressing locals and visitors alike. Now comes the hard part of gauging public and political appetite for not only this downtown stadium project, but professional soccer in general.”
Malik’s record clearly shows he’s not to be underestimated.
Not to be underestimated as well is the first impression Malik and his team are making on the powerful executive who in the MLS will no doubt hold considerable sway over whether the league makes an investment of a franchise in the Triangle.
Abbott praised Raleigh and Malik in comments to WRALSportsfan.
“There’s been growth and development in the downtown area,” Abbott said. “And Steve [Malik] coming in, in terms of taking ownership of the club, has been very beneficial for the club. I think he’s provided a vision for trying to grow professional soccer in this market, and trying to bring Major League Soccer to this market. Today was a good experience for us, to be able to meet with business leaders and elected officials, and to tour the stadium site … I think there is a compelling vision [here], not only for trying to bring Major League Soccer but trying to connect that [preferred stadium site] with the downtown area, to revitalize the Halifax Mall, to be part of the vitalization of downtown.”
So far, so good? Seems so.