Houston signs off on $3.2M rugby stadium deal with SaberCats
Photos: Leslie Plaza Johnson, Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire Via Getty Images
The city’s burgeoning rugby community is poised to have a new home after City Council inked a $3.2 million deal Wednesday that paves the way for the Houston SaberCats to build a 3,500-seat stadium.
The SaberCats, one of seven new Major League Rugby franchises, plans to finish the new facility and two practice fields at Houston Amateur Sports Park, along Texas 288 in south Houston, in time for the beginning of its 2019 season.
The city, meanwhile, will retain ownership of the site, lease the property to the SaberCats for 43 years and use $3.2 million from its 2012 bond package to reimburse the team for the cost of installing a 760-space parking lot and adding public utilities.
“This is a major step forward,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said of the deal. “We say we’re an international city, and this helps to create those venues that can appeal to the interests of a very diverse population.”
SaberCats President Brian Colona echoed Turner’s enthusiasm.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled to have the city council back this thing with great support from Mayor Turner and his staff,” Colona said. “This is the quintessential example of good public-private partnership in order to advance the needs of the community, and we’re happy to be a part of that.”
Houston has a growing community of rugby clubs and fans, and the city hosted several semi-professional teams in the 1980s and 1990s. The fledgling Major League Rugby is looking to capitalize on that. The new professional rugby league has teams in Austin and New Orleans, indicating support for the sport in a region better known for football.
As if to underscore the point, the SaberCats’ first preseason match with the Seattle Saracens last month drew more than 5,000 fans, Colona said.
As part of the deal OK’d Wednesday, the SaberCats have committed to providing at least 200 hours of free children’s rugby training annually, hosting high school rugby matches and running free rugby camps for children ages 6 through 14, among other types of community engagement.
The SaberCats currently are playing exhibition games this winter at Sugar Land’s Constellation Field and are scheduled to begin their inaugural season in April. Colona said the team still is looking for a temporary venue for this season.
Houston’s Amateur Sports Park originally was designed to hold 17 fields, seven of which have been built. The three rugby fields would bring that figure to 10.
“It’s a great agreement for the city,” District D Councilman Dwight Boykins said.
Rebecca Elliott writes about Houston government and policy for the Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter at @rfelliott, and send her tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.