Louisville, Ky., is already famous for its contributions to the world of sports — think Louisville Slugger baseball bats, legendary boxer Muhammed Ali or the spectacle of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Now, with some help from the members of the city’s IBEW members at Local 369, professional soccer is set to join that distinguished list.
More than 60 Louisville, Ky., Local 369 electrical workers installed everything from wiring to signs at the city’s new soccer-only Lynn Family Stadium, where Louisville City F.C. officials and players joined construction officials last summer to present samples of natural grass turf to be used there.
Nearly 60 of the local’s electricians recently wrapped up work on an 85,000-square-foot soccer stadium, installing wiring, lights, signs, sound systems and more. And they managed to have fun doing it, said Local 369 Business Manager Charlie Essex of building the Lynn Family Stadium in the city’s Butchertown neighborhood.
But the work didn’t come to the local without a struggle, he said, a reality that remains sadly unsurprising in largely antiunion Kentucky. “We spent a ton of target money to keep the ‘rats’ out,” Essex said, referring to numerous nonunion bidders for the job.
The investment paid off. “We did everything,” the business manager said. “No one but us worked on anything electric.”
The stadium is the new home of the Louisville City Football Club, the Bluegrass State’s first — and, for now, only — professional soccer team. Although this was Local 369’s fifth soccer facility, Essex said, Lynn Family Stadium was its first professional one, another successful project for the busy local, whose 3,600 members work in 77 of Kentucky’s 120 counties plus seven in southeastern Indiana. It is the second-largest local in the IBEW’s Fourth District, after Washington, D.C., Local 26.
Since its debut season in 2015, LouCity — the team’s less-than-a-mouthful nickname — has been a leader among the more than 30 teams that compete in the United Soccer League’s Championship tier, one level below Major League Soccer. In fact, the “Boys in Purple” won the Championship’s top prize in 2017 and 2018 and finished in second place last fall.
And the team accomplished all of this while sharing space at the built-for-baseball Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats, a minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. For four seasons, LouCity managed to make things work, configuring a rectangular soccer pitch onto the field’s baseball diamond while scheduling their matches to accommodate the Sluggers’ home games.
A local business study showed, however, that if Louisville was serious about growing the professional game in the city, a permanent soccer-specific stadium would be needed. A home of its own also would help put LouCity on solid financial footing and allow it to attract top-quality players from all over the world.
Ground was finally broken on a new facility a few blocks east of Slugger Field in June 2018, with Local 369’s electricians working with signatory contractor Delta Services on a project that ended up mixing union and nonunion construction workers.
Probably the project’s biggest challenge was beyond anyone’s control: dealing with the record-setting rains that waterlogged the Ohio Valley and much of the Midwest in the summer of 2018. Nevertheless, the 12,000-seat stadium was completed on time for the season’s scheduled start in April, with Delta noting that Local 369’s members worked nearly 60,000 hours on the project without a lost-time incident.
Like most other spring and summer sports leagues around the world, though, the USL announced in March that it was delaying the start of its season on account of the various measures put in place to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Even so, LouCity’s games already are among the hottest tickets in town, Essex said. “The stadium is already sold out for this year,” he said, adding that Local 369 has the contract to maintain the stadium’s electrical systems and equipment, and it will almost certainly get the work on the stadium’s inevitable expansion.
And beyond LouCity’s matches, the Lynn Family Stadium expects to handle plenty of other action going forward, especially now that the top-flight National Women’s Soccer League has announced that its expansion Proof Louisville Football Club will play there beginning in 2021.
Incidentally, the “Lynn” in “Lynn Family Stadium” is Dr. Mark Lynn, a prominent Louisville-area optometrist who owns dozens of Visionworks franchises in Kentucky and four other states. Essex noted with pride that one of Lynn’s children is enrolled in Local 369’s apprenticeship school.
Meanwhile, other jobs for the local lately have been “fantastic,” Essex said. Recent Local 369 projects have included work on four new schools, plus remodeling projects at four others, along with expansion of United Parcel Service’s Worldport hub at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport and an expansion of the airport itself. And that’s not to mention plenty of ongoing work for the local’s tree-trimmers.
But when they have some down time, Local 369’s members will have a chance to take in some professional soccer at their newly built stadium. There’s certainly one record-breaking statistic to attract anyone looking for a good time, Essex said. “Out of every sports venue in North America, that stadium has the most bars per square foot.”