What it means to be a potential World Cup training site for South Philly’s FDR Park – The Morning Call

The eyes of the world will be on South Philadelphia when the city hosts the Men’s World Cup at Lincoln Financial Field in 2026, but what that means for neighboring FDR Park remains unknown.

The 348 acres of meadows, lakes, marshes and paths that are to be renovated are one of several potential training sites the city has offered to FIFA, the world governing body of football, as part of its bid to host the World Cup. But any final decision could take more than a year to announce, a city spokesperson said.

“Working closely with FIFA, the next 12-18 months will focus on a wide variety of planning efforts with updates provided accordingly,” the spokesperson said.

FIFA’s process comes as the city undertakes its own $250 million transformation of FDR Park. Some, including youth sports league coaches, welcome the potential of state-of-the-art sports fields. But environmentalists and other community groups are concerned about the development of a beloved green space – the largest strip of public land in South Philadelphia.

FDR Park was one of several potential locations the city offered for training venues as part of its bid to host the World Cup. Other suggested venues are the NovaCare Complex sports facilities near the Eagles, Philadelphia Union Subaru Park in Chester, the University of Pennsylvania, and Drexel and Temple universities.

If FIFA selects FDR as the training site, the construction of the training grounds will coincide with the city’s ambitious “master plan” for the park, which offers 12 multi-purpose sports fields, six baseball and softball fields, eight basketball courts, 10 tennis courts, several playgrounds, 15 acres of “Great Lawn”, 40 acres of wetlands, restrooms, picnic areas, concessions and a permanent residence for the market of Southeast Asia at a location to be determined with the FDR Park Vendors Association. (The city stressed that FIFA will not interfere with its plan for the park.)

If FDR is chosen by FIFA, two of these 12 multi-purpose pitches would be upgraded from synthetic turf to international football standards and feature natural grass, which involves “levelling, irrigation and planting of suitable ground cover”. , said the city spokesman. A dressing room and meeting space would also be built for FIFA use in 2026 and could then be repurposed for use by coaches and leagues, the city said.

Philadelphia is one of 16 cities selected to host the 2026 World Cup tournament, which will see 48 teams and 80 matches across North America.

The month-long tournament is scheduled to take place in June and July 2026, but specific dates as well as the number of games Philadelphia could host have not been determined, the spokesperson said.

According to a city spokesperson, the city’s FDR Park plan is funded “by a mix of local, state and philanthropic funds.” To date, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the Parks and Recreation Department have raised $90.2 million through a combination of public and private funds, the spokesperson said.

If selected for World Cup training, one or two of the grounds could be supported by fundraising and investments from the bid committee, the spokesman said.

For Anthony Meadows, president of the South Philly Sigma Sharks youth soccer organization, the new pitches mean an “opportunity for stability” for his teams. Meadows said its nine travel football teams have bounced from field to field due to unsafe conditions or construction, and often struggle to compete for space.

Potential dressing room access via World Cup renovations and a designated pitch, Meadows said, would be a “definite improvement” and help put his teams on par with the facilities they use when traveling for matches. matches.

“If the city shows there’s an investment in youth and gives people the opportunity to have other opportunities to do first-class things, that would be great,” Meadows said.

Amos Huron, executive director of the Anderson Monarchs youth football league, echoed Meadows’ enthusiasm for the designated training and playing space, and added that he believed a central location where several teams could train together could “build bridges in a very divided city, and create a place where everyone feels like they belong.

Not everyone agrees with the change plans at FDR Park – for the World Cup or otherwise.

In June, 16 community organizations wrote a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and members of City Council, calling for a “people’s plan for FDR Park” – asking the city to do more. transparency around its collection of community feedback. , to preserve more green space and to make the Southeast Asian market an official part of the plan.

David Masur, president of environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment – one of the groups that signed the letter – expressed concerns about the fields’ accessibility to the general public and their impact on the environment.

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Masur, a South Philadelphia resident, has long opposed proposed sports fields on a former golf course turned wildlife trail known as “The Meadows.” The wetland is home to an array of species and a resting place for migratory birds, Masur said.

The city disputes that the site consists of “poor quality vegetation, overrun with invasive species and regularly flooded”. The plan for FDR Park, the city said, was developed with input from environmental engineers, hydrology experts and conservators to create a sustainable design and deal with frequent flooding.

“The reality is just because you have invasive species and swampy conditions, that’s no excuse to bulldoze and bury nature and replace it with roads, parking lots, man-made fields…” said Masur.

“I think they could find more space, you know, and a plan to do both,” he said. “How do you have sports spaces for the community without having to destroy this large outdoor space at the same time?”

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