TACOMA, Wash. - Tacoma is enjoying a bit of a renaissance at the moment. Just look around.
Check out Cheney Stadium, for instance. The home of the Tacoma Rainiers recently underwent a $30 million renovation, transforming the 50-year old baseball stadium into a diamond gem.
And this spring, it’s transforming again - into a soccer stadium.
"When you look at how Tacoma is booming, from housing to condos, development, restaurants, bars, I think it’s a perfect time to add another team to the arsenal here in the South Sound," said Tacoma Rainiers president Aaron Artman.
There’s a lot of excitement in the South Sound about the arrival of S2 - the Sounders' minor league team - which is moving from Tukwila to Tacoma to play in a brand new stadium that will be built adjacent to Cheney Stadium.
"We are very privileged to be down there and be a part of everything," said Sounders general manager Garth Langerway. "... Everybody's been so supportive and the fans have been so warm I think it's a great thing for us because now, when you have the first team in Seattle, the academy in Tukwila and the reserve team in Tacoma, and now we have really touched all areas of Puget Sound.
Ground is slated to be broken on the new soccer stadium later this year but until it’s ready, the Sounders will play at Cheney.
"The first time I went down there I thought this is a pretty nice building for a minor-league baseball stadium, let alone a minor-league soccer stadium," Langerway said. "When you see how it fits, kind of tucked in there pretty cozy, it gets the fans right up there on the soccer field."
The Rainiers have hosted soccer matches before, and say they have learned from their mistakes.
"We are investing a lot of money with the Sounders, putting new sod in everywhere," Artman said. "We kind of invented a new mound removal system, that will allow us to put our mound on a steel platform and then crank it out, and then put sod on top of it."
The fans will be as close to the action as they would in a soccer-specific stadium.
Adding 17 soccer dates to the existing 70-game Rainiers schedule at the stadium is clearly challenging. But it’s a challenge that the franchises and the city are excited to take on. They say the more the merrier.
Folks in the South Sound can feel the momentum building, and they’re proud of it. That’s the inspiration behind a new mantra that you’re seeing around town these days: "We ‘R' Tacoma."
"How can this franchise, with the renovation of Cheney Stadium, be aspirational for Tacoma?" Artman said. "And have the soul of Tacoma in it? So, we R Tacoma. We R family. Welcome 2 Tacoma with the S2 coming. Some of the ways we hope to remind people how great of a city this is.
"It’s as much about baseball, it’s as much about soccer, as it is how much we love this city."