Instead of lining his pockets with the proceeds from North American Soccer League’s San Antonio Scorpions or the team’s new soccer-specific stadium Toyota Field, owner Gordon Hartman is funneling all proceeds into his charitable efforts for individuals with special needs, including theme park Morgan’s Wonderland. The 8,000-capacity Toyota Field launches with a scrimmage April 10 and hosts San Antonio’s first official game in the new stadium two days later.
Hartman, whose passion for helping those with special needs is inspired by his daughter Morgan, purchased the San Antonio Scorpions in Fall 2010. He said that soccer was the natural choice as his sporting vehicle for charity because of San Antonio’s proximity to Mexico, which is an incredibly strong soccer market.
“At that time, I also made a commitment that I would build a soccer-specific stadium, and that 100 percent of the money raised from the team or anything that occurred in the new stadium would go toward helping special needs individuals,” said Hartman, noting that the stadium is officially owned by SOAR (Sports Outdoors and Recreation), a 501(c)(3) established by The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation. “We're using all of the income from it to help those with special needs and to help fund Morgan’s Wonderland.”
Local San Antonio architecture firm Luna Architecture and Design helped with the project, creating a new division, Pro Sports Developments, to take on the project. The schematic design began August 2011, with the completed construction drawings in March 2012, just one month after groundbreaking.
Currently, the stadium has 16 suites and 8,000 seats.
As of April 8, “we have 12 of the 16 suites committed for multiyear deals,” said Toyota Field GM Marc Solis. “By the time we’re in midseason we should have all 16 suites leased out, and whatever isn’t leased we’ll rent out on an event-by-event basis.”
There have been two more design phases drawn up in case of expansion. Phase two will raise the capacity to 12,000 with 32 VIP suites, with the final expansion of phase three allowing for 18,500 seats.
“Expandability was one of the key features we designed into Toyota Field, and maybe the biggest success,” said Project Designer and Project Manager Adam Gill, of Pro Sports Developments for Luna Architecture and Design. “Building a smaller facility just to later move to another site and start over again bigger does not make monetary sense to us, nor does it makes sense for a fan base to move stadium homes and leave the traditions they started there.”
“Even more, spending incredible amounts of money to build the full capacity facility right off the bat can be a crippling financial burden on an expansion team,” he added. A facility needs to grow with its fan base.”
According to Solis, Toyota Field was completely privately funded — Hartman himself would only reveal that the facility was a multimillion dollar project.
The infrastructure, including the amount of water and electricity at the site, was put in to support an 18,500-capacity stadium, in part to keep expansion phases affordable. There is potential that, with enough fan support, the San Antonio Scorpions could eventually become a Major League Soccer team, in which case the stadium would expand.
“If the fans support this team and support this cause, we’ll continue to grow and expand,” said Hartman. “In doing so, the hope is that the economics of growing will just be more money to help special needs— I never want any money from any of this to touch my pocket.”
A rendering of the interior at Toyota Field in San Antonio. (Provided by Pro Sports Developments, a division of Luna Architecture and Design)
San Antonio Scorpions played its first season last year at nearby Heroes Stadium, an 11,000-seat football stadium. In its first year, the team averaged more than 9,000 attendees per event.
This stadium won’t be just for soccer, though. The facility is available for rentals and will also co-promote events. Concerts, boxing, and community events are on the agenda.
“Because this is natural grass, Toyota Field could also do American football,” said Solis. “The stadium will also do a lot of youth championship soccer tournaments, and operate as a site for some of the area colleges or high schools.”
Toyota Field sits across the street from Morgan’s Wonderland, a placement that was no coincidence.
“We’re already planning for events that incorporate both facilities, including two-day events where one day is held in Toyota Field and the next day will be held in Morgan’s Wonderland,” said Hartman. “The whole idea behind this is to increase the awareness of special needs and also serve as an economic vehicle.”
Toyota is the sponsor of both the new soccer stadium and also Morgan’s Wonderland.
One major design element when planning a soccer stadium isn’t a tactile thing at all — it’s how loud the stadium gets.
“We were able to capture an intimacy for the fans that can only come from a soccer-specific stadium. Toyota Field is designed to be a vibrantly loud stadium and very intimidating to the opposing teams,” said Gill.
The facility also features a beer garden 20 feet from the back of the south goal, and the Sky Suite observation deck on the Suite Level.
Hartman said that along with Morgan’s Wonderland being the first park of its type in the world, Toyota Field is the first time that a pro sport will give all of its money to a nonprofit.
“When I sort of retired — at least, when I sold numerous companies eight years ago — I made the decision that I want to dedicate the second half of my life toward helping those with special needs,” said Hartman. When the stadium opens for its first official game April 12, the world will see if he’s scored a goal.
Interviewed for this story: Adam Gill, (210) 496-6611; Gordon Hartman, (210) 493-2811; Marc Solis, (361) 739-8532