HOUSTON -- Houston Dynamo minority owner Oscar De La Hoya joined city and county officials Saturday at the groundbreaking for the team’s $95 million, soccer-specific stadium.
The 22,000-seat venue is situated near downtown within walking distance of Minute Maid Park, the Toyota Center and the city’s massive convention center. Besides being home to the Dynamo, it also will host international soccer matches, Texas Southern University football games, concerts and boxing matches.
The Dynamo have been sharing Robertson Stadium, home of the University of Houston Cougars football team, since moving to Houston from San Jose in 2005.
De La Hoya retired from boxing in 2009 and invested in the Dynamo, who draw much of their fan base from Houston’s Hispanic community.
"The Dynamo is a great team for Houston, and for soccer in general," De La Hoya said. "All these kids looking up to the team, to build a home for them, is something special. I’m very happy and glad to be a part of it."
De La Hoya also has moved into boxing promotion and wants to make Houston a destination for the sport, using the stadium as the centerpiece. His Golden Boy Promotions has hosted events at the Toyota Center, home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
"We’ll be bringing big-time boxing to our stadium," he said. "It’s a perfect configuration for big boxing. We’re talking about matches on HBO and Showtime. Who knows, maybe even pay-per-view shows? It is a big pleasure to look for those next young kids who are from Houston. We have a lot of talent here. It’s going to be exciting to develop those next great fighters hailing from here."
The new stadium will be operated by AEG Facilities, a worldwide manager of sports venues. AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke envisions the Houston stadium hosting an MLS Cup, international matches and perhaps even an NCAA College Cup.
Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, regularly hosts international soccer matches that draw huge attendance. Last July, a crowd of 70,728 watched Manchester United beat a team of Major League Soccer All-Stars.
Leiweke said the Dynamo’s new home will be more suited to exhibition matches between Mexican club teams, also big draws in Houston.
"I do see this is going to be something that brings a lot of opportunity to drive tourism back into Houston," Leiweke said. "I think those Mexican club teams will do well here. But we also see some tournaments we can invest in, with some great European teams coming in for a period of a week, playing multiple games and training in Houston."
By 2012, 15 of the 19 MLS teams will have their own soccer-specific venues, a sign of the league’s growth. MLS president Mark Abbott listed several benefits for teams to have their own homes, rather than splitting with other pro or college teams in their area.
"It’s going to create a great environment for fans, that’s the most important thing," Abbott said. "But also scheduling, control over their own game presentation, feeling of ownership, and it becomes a community asset."
Mayor Annise Parker, Harris County Judge-Executive Ed Emmett and City Councilman James Rodriguez, who represents the district where the stadium will be built, picked up gold-plated shovels and joined De La Hoya at a giant sandbox for the symbolic groundbreaking.
The entire Dynamo squad and coach Dominic Kinnear also attended.
"On the business side, you can run your business more
effectively, rather than renting out all the time," Kinnear said. "We’re not sort of coming in and coming out when the football season rolls around. This will be our own stadium.
"We got around and saw other teams getting their own stadiums," he said. "Our players have been waiting very patiently. That makes all of this very exciting. It was worth the wait."