RENTON — Storied ground will return to its sporting past as Sounders FC announced Wednesday plans to build a state-of-the-art training facility and office space in southwest Renton where the Longacres Racetrack once stood. The site, which most recently was Boeing’s commercial airplanes headquarters, is targeted to open in January 2024.
Led by majority owner Adrian Hanauer, the Sounders are teaming with Seattle company Unico Properties to fund renovation of the property, which will be known officially as the Sounders FC Center at Longacres. The 50,000 square-foot site will be a hub for front-office staff, technical staff, clubhouse and gym for the players — including the academy and affiliate Tacoma Defiance — and four, full-sized training fields.
“Today is about the future and what we will do to build this club for the next generations (and) we are so excited to get going on this project,” Hanauer told a gathering of media, employees and dignitaries at the base of a four-story atrium entryway the team will retain. The facility’s opening will coincide with the Sounders celebrating their 50-year history.
Since joining MLS in 2009, the Sounders have never had all components of the franchise operating on one site, training on a grass field at nearby Starfire Sports in Tukwila. The nonprofit facility has multiple indoor and outdoor fields for youth clubs, small eateries and an approximate 3,500-seat stadium. The Sounders’ front office operated out of a chic space in Pioneer Square before the COVID-19 pandemic and currently works remotely.
When the Sounders utilized Starfire as a MLS team, the grass field and interior space for a private cafeteria, locker room and offices was a leader in the league, although the club hasn’t renovated their portion of the space in years.
Initial plans for the Renton facility include renovating the existing structure for standard team necessities like locker rooms, weight room, private parking and office spaces. But the Sounders emphasized there will be space and funding to stretch to 80,000 square feet. Possibilities will be forward-thinking in designing areas for analytics, psychology and dining. Hanauer said fans will be involved in mapping their needs from viewing training to after-hours events.
Renderings already have been altered multiple times. The Sounders initially thought of pinning their complex on a different portion of the 150 acres.
There are also plans to enhance the surrounding wetlands, replace trees that are cleared to build the fields and retain the trails formerly used by Boeing employees to access public transportation. It’s a 12-minute Sound Transit ride to the King Street Station, the stop for Lumen Field.
“To say this will help our recruiting is one of the bigger understatements I can give,” said Garth Lagerwey, Sounders general manager and president of soccer. “In sports, you work with a salary cap and it’s very, very black and white. This has really been a canvas to paint on and say, ‘What could this be? How do we bring in the fans? How do we bring in the community? How do we do this for the academy?’ We have two years to dig in and see.”
Landscape decisions have to be cemented by July 2023 — the last possible period to seed for the two grass fields to be ready by preseason training camp in 2024. The other two fields will be artificial turf.
Hanauer has long sought a new training facility for the Sounders and Defiance, which will debut in MLS Next Pro in March. The most recent plans were part of the proposed Heidelberg Sports Village in Tacoma that would have featured a soccer-specific stadium and include the NWSL’s OL Reign.
The Defiance currently train at Starfire and will play some matches at Cheney Stadium, a minor-league baseball park in Tacoma. The Reign are exploring options for a training facility and will play matches at Lumen Field.
“This is something that we need to work on this year,” said Reign CEO Vincent Berthillot. “We’re generally open to any kind of partnership with the Sounders. I hope to do some cool stuff this year during match day at Lumen. In addition to that, thinking collectively about our training center could also be an option even. We haven’t any conversations on that, but that’s an option that we would definitely consider.”
The pandemic nixed plans for the Tacoma project but lack of security at Starfire when the club needed to distance itself for safety before there was a vaccine and knowledge of the virus also highlighted the need for a private facility. The Sounders field is adjacent to public fields and there’s a long, open walkway from the locker rooms.
“On some level, it’s amazing we’ve never had an incident,” Lagerwey said.
Hanauer and the Sounders ownership group are working in partnership as tenants and co-investors with Unico to build the Eco-friendly complex. Kansas City-based Generator Studio, which recently oversaw the creation of the Seattle Kraken’s Community Iceplex in Northgate, will handle the design and property renovation.
Unico paid an approximate $100 million to Boeing in December for the aviation company’s former commercial airplanes headquarters. Unico is a subsidiary of a Seattle-based equity and real estate investment firm. Ned Carter, the company’s chief investment officer, Renton mayor Armondo Pavone, King County executive Dow Constantine and Lagerwey joined Hanauer for Wednesday’s announcement.
“It’s an absolute win-win,” Carter said of talks with Hanauer that began last fall, striking a deal within 120 days.
The Sounders opened Wednesday’s announcement with a land recognition, acknowledging the Duwamish people and related Coast Salish people as stewards since time immemorial. The land evolved to being farmed by Japanese and Filipino immigrants.
Before Boeing’s ownership, James Nelson issued a 10-year lease of his lush, 107-acre dairy farm to the Washington Jockey Club in June 1933 for a one-mile racetrack. Longacres opened in August 1933 and gained fame as the oldest continually operating Thoroughbred track on the West Coast, according to HistoryLink.org.
In July 1977, undefeated Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew showed at Longacres for a two-day noncompetitive event. Proceeds funded human and horse research at the University of Washington and Washington State University.
The last race at Longacres was in September 1992. Boeing purchased the land for approximately $90 million and in December 1994, the city of Renton permitted the company to demolish the facility.
“We plan to embrace and lean into that history,” said Hanauer, who has his own fond memories of the area from his childhood in the 1970s. “I had a really good friend whose father was really into the horses and we went a lot of weekends, so I spent a lot of time here. Because of that childhood connection, I watched the property and saw the Boeing development.
“We called Boeing to buy a piece of the property before it went on the market (in April 2021). It didn’t make sense for them at the time to break it up, but we were still talking to them, hoping that whoever bought it we could partner with.”
Another selling point for Unico was the possibility of being involved in the 2026 FIFA men’s World Cup. Lagerwey led a tour of the site with the FIFA delegation in October, asking them to imagine the possibilities because the sale wasn’t finalized, and renderings weren’t available.
Starfire is also expected to be involved as a training site for World Cup teams. FIFA will name its host cities for the tournament by May.
“This is an enormous investment and we needed to do it,” Hanauer said of the multimillion-dollar project. “This club deserves a world-class facility.”