and Ryan Tarinelli, The Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS — Buoyed by four successful years of indoor football, owners of the Cedar Rapids Titans announced Thursday they’ll also launch the city’s first professional arena soccer team — underscoring local efforts to promote sports in growing a more vibrant downtown.
Speaking to a crowd of soccer fans and city leaders at the U.S. Cellular Center, Titans co-owner and general manager Chris Kokalis announced the city as the newest expansion franchise of the Major Arena Soccer League, considered the top professional indoor league in North America.
“I think a large part of it had to do with what we’ve built with the Titans,” Kokalis said. “I think that was one of the big factors — the fact that we’ve already taken a product and have been successful, the fact that this market has never had a team before.”
The Major Arena Soccer League currently has 23 teams from coast to coast, including three in Mexico. Kokalis believes Cedar Rapids will be in the Central Division along with franchises in Chicago, Milwaukee and Missouri.
The team does not yet have a name.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett borrowed a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” as he praised the announcement as another step in the growth of downtown following the devastating flood of 2008.
“As we built this complex, the convention center and the rehabilitation of this facility,” Corbett said, “we needed to have tenants, people that believed in Cedar Rapids. So there’s a little bit of, ‘If you build it, they will come’ belief.”
According to Sharon Cummins, executive director of VenuWorks of Cedar Rapids, the franchise is estimated to bring in $1 million to the area over the first year. VenuWorks manages the Paramount Theatre, Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, McGrath Amphitheatre and the U.S. Cellular Center, which is home to both the Titans and the new soccer franchise.
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Cummins said she expects the team to attract soccer fans from across the state and said the announcement should create buzz around Cedar Rapids, especially given soccer’s popularity among Iowa’s youth.
Cummins said sports fans will come for dinner, spend time downtown and sometimes spend the night in a hotel.
“What we’re finding with our events here in Cedar Rapids is that people like to come early and stay long,” Cummins said.
Kevin Milliken, the vice president of business development and chairman of expansion for the MASL, said the new franchise should have a positive economic impact on the city.
With the U.S. Cellular Center in the middle of downtown, Milliken said restaurants and hotels should expect to see an effect as a result of the announcement.
“I think this is going to be perfect,” Milliken said. “I love the set up of this being downtown.”
The announcement comes as Cedar Rapids officials already have angst over a proposal to build a 7,000-seat arena in Coralville.
Officials in that city already have announced intentions to compete with Cedar Rapids for concerts, and a video animation shown to state officials in a pitch for economic aid displayed fans at a hockey game — raising questions over whether the proposed Coralville arena would compete there, also.
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State officials have said they’ll decide by June 30 whether the Coralville project is among those picked from across the state for aid.
Thursday, Kokalis dismissed any notion that plans for a Coralville arena factored into the announcement.
“Cedar Rapids is our home,” Kokalis said. “This is the Cedar Rapids professional soccer team. If we didn’t feel that this arena had everything we needed it to offer, we wouldn’t be here.”
The name of the new Cedar Rapids team will be decided by a fan vote at the team’s website, www.crprosoccer.com.
After that, a coach will be hired and a roster assembled. Training camp will begin in October and the 20-game regular season will run from November through February.
Kokalis and the rest of the ownership group — Bob Sullivan, Ken Moninski and David Bradley — will serve in the same capacity for the soccer franchise as they have for the Titans.
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