The push for a professional soccer team that would play home games at Breese Stevens Field moved a step closer to the goal on Tuesday.
The Madison City Council approved a new use agreement with Big Top Events, which has sought a pro soccer anchor tenant since it started managing the Near East Side stadium in 2015.
“We feel the top use of the facility long-term is soccer,” said Vern Stenman, president of Big Top. “This is going to be something this community is going to be proud of for a long time.”
Included was $1.3 million from the city toward soccer-related facility improvements. A new speaker system to better contain noise inside the stadium, improved player facilities and new hospitality spaces are planned.
A seating capacity of 5,000, up from the current 2,800, also is part of the capital improvement project.
Big Top Events, which also runs the Madison Mallards summer collegiate baseball team that plays at Warner Park, intends to reveal its soccer plans at a 6 p.m. Thursday public event at Breese Stevens Field, 917 E. Mifflin St.
The reworked agreement between the city and Big Top approved Tuesday allows for full liquor sales at public and private events in separately ticketed spaces inside the stadium and adds eight free community facility use events.
It includes an extension through 2028 with a mutual option through 2033. Annual rental fees paid by Big Top to the city are increasing by $40,000 in 2019, to $68,000, and would end at $112,000 by 2033.
After originally asking to stage up to 14 concerts annually in contract negotiations, drawing concern from some neighbors, Big Top and the city agreed to seven. That’s essentially unchanged from the previous agreement, which allowed six concerts plus one in a Madison Parks Foundation fundraiser.
The original 2015 contract was through 2022, with a five-year mutual option.
Under Big Top’s management, Breese Stevens has hosted concerts, movies and a monthly bodega in addition to sporting events.
The Madison 56ers play amateur soccer games at the stadium, a city landmark that opened in 1925 and was home to the WIAA state soccer tournaments from 1988 to 2003. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
The Madison Radicals Ultimate Frisbee team also calls the stadium home. The American Ultimate Disc League will play its championship weekend at Breese Stevens for the second time in three years on Aug. 11-12.
The stadium hosted about 170 events in 2017, according to Madison Parks superintendent Eric Knepp. He estimated that figure rising to about 200 annually under the new contract.
State Journal reporter Logan Wroge contributed to this report.