Orlando City is slated to move its men’s teams to a new training facility at Lake Nona, while the Orlando Pride will take over the training facilities in Seminole County.
The club is investing upward of $20 million in the new facilities, Orlando City president Phil Rawlins told the Sentinel. The training center will house Major League Soccer team Orlando City, minor-league team Orlando City B and the club’s U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams in the fast-emerging southeast Orange County community.
The teams will move from Seminole County to the new facilities once they are completed, which is expected to be by March 2017. Construction is to start immediately at the site.
As planned, the soccer campus will include six practice fields, training and fitness centers, a players’ clubhouse, locker rooms and a rehab and injury center. The building will also include film rooms and classrooms for Orlando City players and academy players.
Orlando City also holds an option to acquire 20-plus acres directly in front of the new facilities to expand in the future. The Tavistock Group, which owns Lake Nona, will develop the privately funded campus.
“Our goal is to build one of the best [soccer] clubs in the world,” Rawlins said. “Those are not marketing lines. Those goals and ambitions are what drives me every morning, every day. … This is what we’re building; this is a club that’s going places. We want to be one of the best clubs in North America and we are within touching distance of that in the next few years and we will push on from there.”
Orlando City will be the second major player to locate in what is known as the Lake Nona Sports & Performance District. The complex will be built next to the 100-plus-court national training center being built for the U.S. Tennis Association.
The Lions train at the newly renovated Sylvan Lake Training Center in Seminole County. That facility will become the training home for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Orlando Pride starting in 2017.
Orlando City has invested more than $2 million in updating the Sylvan Lake facility with a new gym, locker room, training room and practice fields, but Rawlins said the fast-expanding club has outgrown that location.
“We are endeavoring to give all of our teams the best facilities possible,” Rawlins said. “The Pride get to inherit this location, which has great facilities, a gym, locker rooms, the fields themselves. This will be the best facility in the NWSL by a mile. They are really getting a great home for the future development of the women’s team and the girls’ academy.”
Rawlins said the club remains invested in Seminole County, and that it has already committed the funds it promised for new fields as part of the agreement with the county for use of the facilities at Sylvan Lake Park.
“Seminole County’s relationship with [Orlando City] has been and continues to be a strong and beneficial one for both parties in a number of areas,” Seminole deputy county manager Bruce McMenemy said in an email. “We expect to continue to build on our past successes with an eye towards greater synergies and to explore areas where our citizens can reap the benefits of mutual cooperation.”
Rawlins said his limited contact with Seminole County about the changes has been positive.
“I’ve only spoken to a couple commissioners first-hand, and the ones I spoke to were positive and supportive,” Rawlins said. “They know we have to grow and we need to have extra facilities. And this is an opportunity for us to spread our footprint across the region from the south to the north. They have been and continue to be great partners for us.”
Rasesh Thakar, senior managing director of Tavistock Group, said the new facility at Lake Nona grew out of what had been just a neighborly relationship. He lives a few doors down from Orlando City owner Flávio Augusto da Silva in the exclusive Isleworth community, which is also owned by Tavistock. It’s home to such sports names as Shaquille O’Neal and Lions star Kaká.
Helping foster the relationship, Tavistock purchased 1,000 tickets when Orlando City launched its campaign to fill the Citrus Bowl’s 60,000 seats for the team’s debut game less than a year ago.
“This came together because of a friendship that Phil and Flávio and I have,” Thakar said. “I was so impressed with the way they do things as an organization.”
Rawlins said Tavistock “really threw a lot at us,” and “made it difficult for us to say no.”
In addition to the 23-acre facility, the ability to expand allows for the potential to open a residential academy for its youth system, Rawlins said. The club could also add as many as 12 fields on the site.
“This league is going to be one of the top leagues in world, and we’ve shown we’re one of the top markets,” Rawlins said. “We want to establish ourselves as one of the best clubs in the league and therefore one of the best clubs in the world. We have long-term plans and part of that is the residential academy and growing the youth and women’s game. All of that is part of being a holistic club and a proper [soccer] club. …
“Look at our progress in eight years. If you look at where could be in eight years from now, it’s pretty spectacular.”