KSU hopes to raise profile with new soccer stadium

Next month will be big at Kennesaw State University.

On May 2, the school will officially open its $16.5-million, 8,300-seat soccer stadium, the centerpiece of a major expansion of its athletics facilities.An open house will be held for students and the community.

On May 9, the Atlanta Beat, a new women’s pro soccer team, will play its first home game in the stadium.

KSU President Daniel Papp hopes the stadium will raise the school's profile and provide a new revenue stream while becoming a spot for student activities such concerts and graduations.

The stadium has a performance stage at one end and could accommodate up to 16,000 for concerts by putting seats on the field. The KSU women’s soccer team will use the stadium in the fall.

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People keep asking Papp about that other fall sport involving an oblong ball and feet. He said the stadium could be used for football if KSU goes ahead with the idea of starting a program. An exploratory committee led by former University of Georgia coach Vince Dooley is expected to deliver a report on the prospect this fall, Papp said.

“The possibility is there but the bigger issue if whether funding could be found for football,” Papp said.

The stadium is a public-private partnership, with the facility owned by the KSU Foundation and managed by the Beat. The team will handle all stadium booking. Private donations, including a chunk from Beat owner T. Fitz Johnson, and student fees are paying for the stadium, which is being funded through 30-year bonds.

The money will also go for other facilities on the 88-acre tract KSU bought east of I-75. The school, which now has 22,300 students, plans to build other soccer and rugby fields for intramural and club teams and walking trails around a 10-acre lake. Last fall the school opened artificial turf fields and an indoor training facility called the Owls Nest. University officials expect the total cost of the expansion to be $53 million to $56 million.

Senior Megan Talbert of Woodstock doesn't use athletic facilities much but thinks the complex is a good idea.

"Kennesaw has grown so much in the four years I've been here," she said. "I think there is a demand for intramural sports and this will allow Kennesaw to be more attractive to prospective students."

A cold, rainy winter slowed construction but Beat and school officials say they expect the stadium to be finished on time for the team's May 9 home opener. Crews still need to pave parking lots, attach seats onto the bleachers and install a large video screen. The stadium is being constructed in a natural bowl at the corner of Busbee Drive and Busbee Parkway, near the Chastain Road exit from I-75.

Papp said he’s not worried about partnering with a pro team with no record of success during a shaky economy. Even if the Beat or the Women’s Professional Soccer league doesn’t make it, the stadium will still be paid for because money from donors and student fees has been committed, Papp said.

Johnson said he hopes the Beat averages 6,000 fans per game. So far, the team has sold about 1,500 season tickets. The league's June 30 All-Star game will be played in Kennesaw.

“We’ve built a model that’s sustainable,” Johnson said. “If we can sustain this for a number of years it will just get better. ... While the cash flow may not be great, the franchise value increases over time.”

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