Economy
9:33 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac is big. It's about to become bigger.

Inside the massive Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, you can buy a cappucino at the cafe, some new cleats at the sports equipment shop, and then head over to do some of the real business of the place - playing the world's most popular sport on its two full-size indoor fields. 

Home to numerous youth and adult soccer leagues, the facility is usually sold out for regional competitions.

The arena also boasts an indoor lacrosse field - and now its owners plan to expand.

Already, the arena is North America's largest indoor soccer facility.  With the acquisition of 14.6 acres of former GM property, its owners say it will be the world's largest non-pro sports arena.  "We're going to make this the soccer Mecca of the Midwest," says co-owner George Derderian.

Derderian admits the facility is not well-known among people who don't play soccer.  But he says he's not going to advertise; he's already having trouble meeting the demand for competitions and practices. 

The lacrosse field is pretty busy too.  Derderian says the sport is the fastest-growing in North America. 

An estimated 10 to 15 million kids in the U.S. play soccer.

The property being acquired by the arena was formerly owned by GM.  There are about 48 other former GM sites with no current use, although the trust set up to sell the properties says it's making good progress, with some big deals in the works. 

Some of the properties are undeveloped industrial plots of land; others once were home to complexes of bustling factories, now torn down; other sites have significant contamination.

The expansion will mean 25 additional jobs at Ultimate Sports Arena, which now employs about 100 people.  Construction on a new indoor field and an outdoor field will provide temporary jobs for about 100 workers.

Pontiac's Emergency Financial Manager, Lou Schimmel, says the deal is just one of several that shows the city is on its way back up. 

"People are very very much interested - I feel it - in coming to Pontiac. I think it's because we fixed the core - and the tree will grow."

Under Schimmel's reign, the city reduced its debt from $115 million to $28 million, and outsourced most of its services.

Schimmel says he expects to step down within months.  The one unfinished piece of business is Pontiac's retiree health care costs.  Schimmel says he has asked the city's Pension Board to pay for that, out of its surplus funds.  He says so far the Board has refused. 

Schimmel says he won't pay the cost out of the city's slender general funds.  His next fiscal year budget eliminates retiree health care entirely.