The construction of historic Crew Stadium, which fulfilled the dream and vision of Crew Founder Lamar Hunt and soccer enthusiasts across America, remains one of the most important events in the sport’s history in this country. Erected in a scant nine months and one day, at a cost of $28.5 million, it was the first major-league stadium built specifically for soccer in the U.S.
Since opening on May 15, 1999, when the Crew downed the New England Revolu- tion, 2-0, before a sellout crowd of 24,741– a true watershed moment – Crew Stadium’s impact on soccer in the United States has been recognized around the globe. The new facility sparked a new interest among soccer fans in central Ohio. Their loyalty would be evidenced by the fact that Columbus finished the 1999 regular season with the league’s highest average home attendance of 17,696.
Plans for a soccer specific stadium in central Ohio had been in the works ever since the Crew’s inaugural season, when the Black & Gold called historic Ohio Stadium home. Realizing that the Crew’s days at the Horse- shoe were numbered due to the facility’s oversized seating capacity and downsized field width, team officials made the search for a suitable venue a top priority.
Just after the start of the 1997 season, after more than a year of in-depth studies, the Crew’s first real chance at a home of its own came in the form of Issue I, a Franklin County vote to raise taxes 0.5 percent for a $285 million downtown stadium and arena complex. Voters went to the polls on May 7, but the issue came up short, as the vote was defeated 56 percent to 44 percent.
The Crew’s chances of building its own soccer-specific stadium suffered another blow six months later when The Ohio State University’s Board of Trustees approved a $150 million renovation project for Ohio Stadium on November 7, 1997. Construction would make Ohio Stadium unusable during the summer of 1999, giving the Crew less than 18 months to find or construct a suitable playing venue.
The search would lead the Crew to a 180-acre patch of land in Dublin, a Northwest Columbus suburb, where officials voted to purchase approximately 158 acres of the site in December of 1997. Planned for the site was a $26 million, 25,000-seat soccer-specific stadium similar to the structure proposed on Issue I. However, a city referen- dum loomed on February 10, 1998.
The referendum failed by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent, leaving the team with little time to spare until the start of the 1999 season.
As the 1998 season wore on, time became the Crew’s biggest foe. Less than three months after the defeat of the Dublin vote, the Crew proposed another stadium site that called for a 22,500-seat stadium that would be built on land leased from the Ohio Expositions Commission.
The first hurdle was cleared on May 15, when the Expositions Commission voted 6-2 in favor of the 25-year lease. Three days later, it was approved by the state of Ohio’s Controlling Board and on May 28 the Ohio Expositions Commission approved the stadium site.
When the stadium’s design was unveiled on July 7, it illustrated a combination of Euro- pean atmosphere and traditional American amenities. From the foundation up, Crew Stadium’s sharp-cut industrial look was a steel and concrete masterpiece designed in the very image of America’s Hardest Working Team.
At the stadium’s ground breaking on Aug. 14, then-MLS Commissioner Doug Logan, made good on his previous promises by awarding Crew Stadium with the 2000 MLS All-Star Game and the MLS Cup 2001. The Crew, the city of Columbus and Major League Soccer had confronted the game’s biggest challenge and defeated it soundly, leaving no doubt that the Crew was here to stay.