Atlanta Beat will play in Kennesaw State stadium

Kennesaw State announced Tuesday the school will build an 8,300-seat stadium for its women's soccer team, a facility officials called "the first of its kind in the world" because of its size and focus on women's soccer.

As part of a partnership with the Owls, the new Atlanta Beat women's professional soccer team has negotiated a five-year lease with the school to use the stadium for its home games, which begin in early May.

The $16.5 million project is being funded through two significant, anonymous private donations to the KSU Foundation, along with a mix of student fees, sponsorships, ticket sales and concessions. KSU president Daniel Papp said that getting the project done without dipping into tax money was a key to making it work.

"That was absolutely important. Given the budget situation and the state of Georgia, we just couldn't use public funds," Papp said. "Unless we had all parts of this work together, we couldn't bring it about."

The stadium is the centerpiece of a park that is expected to include seven fields that can be used for practice or intramural sports, a rugby field and nature trails on a 21-acre parcel of land between George Busbee Parkway and I-575 along Big Shanty Road.

While university and foundation officials stressed that the stadium is being built with the intention of being a women's soccer-specific facility, it also can accommodate outdoor concerts, as well as high school sports such as football and lacrosse.

In addition, there is potential for the stadium's construction to present a key piece toward the adoption of football as a varsity sport in the future. Papp said it will be possible to expand the stadium's seating to 22,000 if the school decides to pursue football, and KSU will announce the formation of a football exploratory committee next week.

"Having this stadium and having this partnership with the Atlanta Beat opened up possibilities for Kennesaw State that were not here previously," Papp said. "Ever since I was nominated as president, I've been asked, ‘What's the story on football?' Well, now we're going to have, conceivably, a place to play."

In the immediate future, though, it will be the home of the Beat, a franchise that is in its second incarnation -- this time as part of the Women's Professional Soccer league -- after an original run from 2001-03 with the defunct Women's United Soccer Association.

The Beat will play 15 home games at the stadium in 2010, and KSU Foundation executive director Wesley Wicker said financial details of the five-year lease still are being worked out.

He also said, regardless of the future of the Beat team and its league, the foundation will be able to handle its financial obligation.

"The financing state is not dependent on the lease of the stadium," Wicker said. "We expect this soccer franchise and the league to be successful, but we have received two very large, anonymous contributions. Looking at ticket sales, concessions, parking, we feel extremely confident that we'll not only finance the stadium but be profitable, even if we don't hold outside events."