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Rhinos' owners say they are leaving the downtown stadium; looking for a new venue locally

There are changes ahead for the downtown soccer stadium in Rochester.

On Wednesday, David and Wendy Dworkin, who own the Rochester Rhinos, say that they have received approval from the United Soccer League to join USL Division III by the 2020 season. Division III is a new division in the soccer league, targeting communities ranging  from 150,000 to one million in population, and it set to get underway next year.

As part of that move, the Dworkins say they have begun to pursue a new stadium development in the  Rochester area.  They also say they will vacate the downtown stadium, most recently known as Marina Auto stadium, by the end of this year.

The Dworkins say that, “After careful consideration and discussions with a number of our stadium partners and the United Soccer League, and after assessing the totality of our last three years as a tenant of the City of Rochester, we have determined that it is time for the Rochester Rhinos to move on from this venue.”

Last fall, the Rhinos announced they would take a hiatus from the 2018 USL season due to financial reasons.  Earlier this year, the city and the Dworkins got into a legal tussle over the lease to the stadium which the city owns, and as part of a settlement, the Rhinos’ owners had to announce by September 1st that they would field a team for 2019.

The Dworkins said on Wednesday that staying in Division II in the USL is not sustainable at this time. They also say that they have identified several possible sites within Monroe County where a new multi-purpose could be constructed.

David Dworkin said they are looking for sites to build a potential stadium of their own for the team. He said they need a home that fits today's soccer program.

"What we don’t have is we don’t have fields, we need adjacent fields for soccer tournaments. We need adjacent fields for events. We don’t have a team store here, we don’t have the locker rooms we've been told by some folks we need more locker rooms."

They say it is just the early stages and the next step will be to study the operational and financial feasibility of their plans, which include discussions with potential stakeholders who can “share a multi-use facility to further drive local economic benefit.”

When it comes to the fans, Wendy Dworkin hopes they understand they're doing what’s best for the team.

"Well I hope that they’re happy that there’s the prospect of the Rhinos staying and playing in 2020 as a USL Division III team. At the end of the day it has to be done correctly in an organized fashion, and you want to set yourself up for success."

The City of Rochester issued this statement:

Today’s decision by the soccer team’s management to cease operation at the stadium will pave the way for the City to move forward at that facility,” said James Smith, Director of Communications & Special Events.  “This past year in limbo with the stadium management has resulted in significant taxpayer investment to cover expenses with very little use of the facility for the community.  Until the soccer team made its decision, out of good faith, we have not been able to engage other interested parties in discussions about the future reuse of this public facility and we are now able to begin those discussions with protection of our taxpayers as a paramount factor.”        

USL Division III Senior Vice President Steven Short also had a  statement about the Rhinos' plans:

We’re looking forward to working with such a historic club to bring professional soccer back to Rochester by the spring of 2020. We will continue to work alongside the Dworkins and local entities to secure an appropriate venue that will allow the organization to plot a course to a strong future.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.