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 Wednesday, August 28, 2002 13:32 EST

Oklahoma a strong contender

[Associated Press]

EDMOND, Okla. -- Oklahoma has a very good chance of landing a Major League Soccer franchise as the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and Tulsa compete for one of four new teams, a league official says.

"I know that there is great promise in the sport of soccer in the state of Oklahoma,'' Lamar Hunt, a league investor who owns franchises in Kansas City, Mo., and Columbus, Ohio, said Tuesday. "Oklahoma, like the rest of the country, has a youth explosion.''

Officials from Edmond, representing the Oklahoma City area, displayed plans Tuesday for renovating the stadium at the University of Central Oklahoma to house a professional soccer team.

The 50-year-old stadium could be rebuilt into a three-tiered multipurpose facility with 16,000 permanent seats and 7,000 more retractable bleacher seats, said Kansas City architects CDFM2. The stadium's cost is still being estimated, the firm said.

"It would sort of have an Ivy League look,'' said Bill Johnson, CDFM2's design director. "We are using extensive use of red brick, a very traditional feel, timeless quality like for the campus.''

Hunt, who also owns the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, attended the meeting for the MLS and said the league has narrowed its search down to seven or eight cities for its 2006 expansion. In recent weeks he has met with Tulsa officials, but wouldn't compare the two cities' chances.

The trip to Edmond "is more of a fact finding trip and I certainly can't find any cons here,'' Hunt said. "Everything that I saw was positive. It would open a new frontier for Major League Soccer, a new territory.''

"The facility is what the MLS is looking for. It also has the growth potential and the flexibility of use for other ventures, high school and college.''

Edmond has not determined who would pay for the stadium or how, and is seeking more public input, said Tracey Osborne, chairwoman of the city's stadium committee.

Oklahoma City's bid is helped by the expertise of Bob Funk, the owner of Express Personnel and Express Sports, a marketing and promotion firm that owns the Oklahoma City Blazers minor league hockey team.

"We promised the mayor and the City Council we would investigate any major league opportunities,'' Funk said. "So far we've had two NHL and two NBA contacts, and now the MLS.''

Tulsa officials, who are still deciding where a stadium would be located, will meet with league officials again Thursday.

Tulsa made a bid for an MLS team when the league organized eight years ago but was denied when the league rejected Skelly Stadium on the campus of the University of Tulsa. This time around, the city is trying to arrange financing for a new stadium.

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