Detroit — Detroit City FC, a semi-professional soccer club that continues to punch above its weight on many fronts, celebrated another milestone Monday with the anticipated grand opening of Detroit City Fieldhouse.
The 75,000-square-foot facility at 3401 E. Lafayette St., will serve as the nerve center for the fourth-tier club while offering two indoor playing surfaces as well as a DCFC-themed bar and restaurant to serve the soccer-playing community.
The fieldhouse will host men’s, women’s, co-ed and youth recreational leagues as well as the DCFC youth select program that runs in conjunction with PAL.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan joined Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and DCFC officials during a ribbon-cutting at the facility, which formerly operated as an ice rink. The official grand opening is Saturday.
"I spent many years coaching youth soccer in the winter on Sundays and Saturdays in these kind of indoor facilties,” said Duggan, whose brother Dan owns the USL League Two Michigan Bucks.
"You've advanced a long way on the turf,” the mayor added, referring to the new playing surface on the facility’s field surrounded by hockey dasher boards. “We used to have a carpet and the ball bounced pretty high.
“This is really a high-end facility our residents should have, so another positive step in the right direction: Take a vacant building and make it into a recreation center.”
A state-of-the-art field turf, along with new Plexiglas, netting and lighting are among the additions as part of the project. Murals depicting DCFC icons in the club’s signature maroon also adorn the walls.
Along with a hockey-style rink surface, a second wall-less field can accommodate small-sided matches.
DCFC started renovations after agreeing to lease the former City Sports Center in the Elmwood Park neighborhood.
A $40,000 grant from the DEGC’s Motor City Match program helped nudge the project toward the finish line.
“That really helped us solidify our project and gave us confidence that we could do all the renovations here that we really wanted to do,” said Todd Kropp, DCFC co-owner. “Initially, we talked about doing this over several phases but with the Motor City Match grant, it really helped us. ... We could do the clubhouse, complete all the fields in one phase.”
The building's heating and air system was replaced. The biggest ordeal involved removing a roughly 5-inch deep 200-by-85 feet concrete slab, Kropp said.
The National Premier Soccer League club moved its business operation there from Yemans Street in Hamtramck. DCFC plays its home matches at historic Keyworth Stadium, which underwent a $750,000 supporter-funded overhaul.
That meant relocating its merchandise shop, which wasn’t a move taken lightly since a fourth of the club’s revenue comes from sales of replica jerseys, scarves and T-shirts.
“What we found was over there people who came to the shop already knew of it,” Kropp said. “Actually we didn't get a lot of walk-in traffic. I think having it here we will get a lot more traffic, on Saturdays and Sundays for example, that we'll do better.
“It's a tough one. We debated whether to keep that spot open in Hamtramck, but with so much going here we just said let's move it.”
The fieldhouse operation is a separate entity from the soccer club, said Kropp, who declined to reveal the lease cost.
The Detroit City Clubhouse, a bar/restaurant, will be a soccer-themed bar pouring Stroh’s, Axle and Guinness. Food will include pies, which are popular among supporters at English football grounds.
For a soccer team whose season is only three months, the new digs are a chance to get stuck in year-round, said Sean Mann, co-owner.
“It's a place for our fans to congregate,” said Mann, who took particular pride in pointing to a collection quilt of supporter’s tifos hanging from one wall. "It's a place for youth clubs and their parents to hang out and it's also a place for soccer people to come.
“Everything here is DCFC oriented and so it helps cement that relationship.”
Mann also addressed other DCFC issues:
■ The club’s push to move pro, possibly serving as flagship to a NPSL Pro Division: “I’m on a conference call every day. We’re hoping to make an announcement in the coming weeks. …Moving to a pro level, helps on a corporate sponsorship level, especially during August. We see our attendance peak during the last week of July and then our season is over. Seven more games (a season) would help us.”
■ Ben Pirmann returning for a sixth season: "We haven't had that conversation yet with Ben. He's doing great stuff at the college level (Pirmann's an assistant coach at Michigan State). He wants to coach at the pro level. We haven't had a conversation about next year.”
■ Possible international friendlies in 2019. DCFC hosted Germany’s FC St. Pauli, Mexico’s Club Necaxa and Italy's Frosinone. "We're working on them now. We will see something similar to last year. We plan on having two. Without a World Cup and without the Euros, we are working with a much more narrow window for teams to come over to the United States."