By Michael Lewis
If the Dworkins have their way, they will have a proper soccer-specific stadium somewhere in Monroe County, surrounded by soccer and lacrosse fields sometime in 2020.
That’s the goal of Rochester Rhinos owners Wendy and David Dworkin after they announced their decision not to operate Marina Auto Stadium by the end of the year.
They have whittled the candidates down to a few, but the Dworkins weren’t going to reveal the finalists on the Kick This! soccer radio show Saturday. It will be built in suburban Rochester in Monroe County.
“Despite all the people on the radio and the news thinking that it’s going to be here or there, we haven’t picked a site yet,” David Dworkin said told host Soccer Sam Salvatore. “But we certainly have narrowed it down to a bunch. We are having a stadium concept plotted to see how much land we need for a complex. That’s one of the reasons why we’re looking for large parcels so we can have multiple fields. We can have our stadium and that will cause us to need a good chunk of land.”
That’s right, lacrosse is in the mix as well.
“It’s for multiple uses and partnerships.” Wendy Dworkin said. “I think the key is community partnerships.”
Several lacrosse entities have reached out to the Rhinos since their decision was made public Wednesday, Dworkin said, so tournaments in that sport could be held at the new facility.
“Those are some of the stakeholders we have been talking to about these fields because the goal is as we look to this complex, is to be able to bring in people to the Rochester area, spent a weekend here, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and visit our community,” David Dworkin said. “And that’s kind of the key piece of this complex.”
Stadiums can take years to build, especially when you add local government approval and the hard winters of Rochester.
Yet, the Dworkins was confident the stadium would be ready sometime during the 2020 season.
“I think we can,” David Dworkin said. “And if it turns out because of the Rochester winters that it doesn’t get finished in time for the start of the 2020 season and got to play a few matches on the road like we do every year, then we can do that.”
What the new stadium will be named and regardless where it will be built, one think is for sure: it will not look like downtown stadium that opened in 2006. While it has been criticized for being erected in a “bad neighborhood,” for many soccer enthusiasts, the venue lacked the proper atmosphere for ardent fans.
The downtown stadium was not built for the fans mind.
The Dworkins have been quite impressed with Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall, which makes it arguably the most intimidating venue in Europe. The south stands are 328 feet long and 131 feet high with fans standing and cheering for their heroes.
The Rhinos owners visited Orlando City Stadium, home of Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer, and fell in love with the stands behind one of the goals.
David said he and his wife “looked at their stadium and that standing supporters section is really something that can captivate the atmosphere. So, there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to look at is part of this complex.”
Not surprisingly, the Dworkins have heard from the fans since Wednesday’s announcement.
“We’ve had a lot of fans reach out to us and give us ideas on the stadium and we’re listening,” David Dworkin said. “This Yellow Wall, it’s something that Wendy and I have always looked at the current stadium and how could we redesign this before we went through all this earlier stuff this year with the city and everything else. We looked at potentially redesigning the stadium and creating this sort of fan experience for the supporters. You go to some of these MLS matches and it’s something really special.”
There were more problems with the Marina Auto Stadium, including the locker rooms not being built underneath it, which forced the players into long walks prior to the match and before and after halftime, rather than a short walk away virtually every stadium in the world worth its salt, and that storage facilities were not located on the premises.
“We have to spend an enormous amount of time and manpower to setup for a match,” David Dworkin said. “Think about it. Our locker rooms are not connected to the stadium. Not every common. Ninety percent of what we need for game day experience is brought in from an adjacent warehouse. It’s a big warehouse, but we’ve got to truck everything in from in there on hand trucks and tow motors and whatnot. So it doesn’t make it easy. When we run out of things we’ve got to bring it from the warehouse.”
David Dworkin noted the improvements the Rhinos made to the stadium since he and his wife purchased the United Soccer League club in 2015.
“It’s not lost that we’re leaving the stadium in a much better place than when it was given to us three years,” he said. “It’s got a $600,000 plus turf field. There’s a commissary at the suite level that didn’t exist. The concessions have been upgraded. It’s significantly better when we got here.”
Given the stadium plans, there will be no Rhinos team for a second consecutive season as the side went dormant for 2018 while the Dworkins tried to secure financing, tax breaks from the city and county and a larger season-ticket base.
Ironically, the club won’t be in a proper position to celebrate an intriguing anniversary next year.
“This could be a very exciting time,” he said. “We could be this new reborn franchise with the most storied history to exist. It’s not lost on me that next year its the 20th anniversary of the [Lamar Hunt] U.S. Open Cup victory and we’re not even fielding a team. It’s sickening when you think about where this team was and where it is, the players and everything.
“If the end result is that you had a couple of bumps in the road, arguably experience bumps and time-consuming bumps, you end up with this ideally suited facility, then that’s a big win. This thing will be here for the long term. Again, as we’ve said all along it’s the community partnership. You know that from what all you do in soccer. No matter how much you put into it you can’t do it alone.”
Due to its early success on and off the field, Rochester had been dubbed “Soccertown USA.” It won three A-League titles and that Open Cup crown as fans packed Frontier Field — home of the baseball Rochester Red Wings — during those bountiful and hefty years.
But that was then, and this is now.
At the end of the 15-minute interview, David Dworkin indicated the dreams of joining MLS ended years ago and that fans must face reality.
“I hate to say it, we’re not in MLS, we’re not getting in MLS, and I appreciate the fact that people will not be able to get over that,” he concluded. “We had nothing to do with that just like someone thought the stadium was built for us. It wasn’t. We only have the cards that were dealt to us three years ago and we’re trying to make the best team with what we’ve got to work with.”