Practice facility talks continue between Obetz and Columbus Crew,

By Ris Twigg
Staff Writer

The back and forth negotiations between the village of Obetz and the Columbus Crew Major League Soccer team may soon come to fruition as the two groups slowly reach an agreement on leasing terms for the Obetz soccer practice facility.

“Without giving away the farm, I’d say that we’re down to some ideas that we all agree on in principle, and we’re just tightening those up for the formal agreement,” said Rod Davisson, Obetz economic development director.

Davisson submitted another round of negotiations to the Crew last week that scales up several of the offers the Crew previously proposed to Obetz.

In the new offer, Obetz is asking for a “significant increase” in the number of public Crew practices available to Obetz residents throughout the year, a part of the deal that Davisson says is important to village residents. He declined to provide the exact number of practices. The Crew had offered Obetz only three public practices a year in their Nov. 13 offer.

The Crew also has more storage and space needs to bridge the gap between now and their permanent facility, and Obetz is working to accommodate some of those “property improvements,” Davisson said.

The cost to rent the facility is increasing in the new offer. Davisson declined to release the exact amount of the increase.

Previously, the Crew had offered Obetz $100,000 per year to rent the 5,000 square feet practice facilities, with an increase of $25,000 in future years. The Crew was originally renting the fields for $2,500 a month, or $30,000 per year.

The new yearly rent will be much more than that, Davisson said.

Both parties are still negotiating the length of the lease term while the Crew is figuring out how it will move forward with its potential new practice home at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus. Turning Mapfre Stadium into the Crew’s new practice facility has not yet been confirmed.

Depending on the outcome of that decision and how long Mapfre renovations take, the lease will either be a three-year term or a two-year term with a possible one-year extension if renovations take more time.

“For us, we know they’re trying to bridge the space between now and that facility getting completed,” Davisson said. “For Obetz’s part, we’re not in that. Don’t care, not our project. What we need to figure out is how long this team is going to be here and what are we going to do next. And make sure that any version of that makes sense for residents of Obetz and for the team.”

Although the relationship between the Crew and Obetz may appear rocky to the public, Davisson said relations between the two have been mostly good over the years, with occasional ups and downs as new owners come and go.

Obetz has been supporting the Crew since the team’s beginning, back in 1997 when the practice facility was originally built, Davisson said. It was the first Major League Soccer facility in the country, constructed during a time when soccer was just starting to gain popularity in the United States.

“When they were having hard times, we were still here. When they were having trouble making money, we were still here. We’ve been here the whole time, unwavering,” Davisson said. “We’ve been family for more than 20 years. So Obetz was not jumping on the Crew bandwagon — we’ve been driving it.”

Davisson thinks the fundamental issues the Obetz community had with prior versions of the Crew — meaning past owners’ relationships with the village — was that they didn’t have any community involvement of any scale. That dynamic is changing as Obetz pushes the Crew for more public access to the team.

“I get people are fervent about their team. I’m fine with every bit of that. But I play hard for my team,” Davisson said. “And hopefully we can all respect that.”

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