As Austin takes initial MLS step, other issues arise


Highlights

UT AD Perrin points to ‘significant logistical issues’ with Myers Stadium.

Amendments cast wider net for stadium site and potential MLS teams.

Group emerges that’s trying to put together East Austin stadium project.

Austin City Council members on Thursday night unanimously approved a resolution directing the city staff to analyze city-owned land that could be used to build a Major League Soccer stadium.

Precourt Sports Ventures, owner/operators of Columbus Crew SC, announced Oct. 17 that it is exploring a move to Austin for the 2019 season.

PSV released a statement saying, “While this is an early step, it is an important one that underscores Precourt Sports Ventures’ belief that Austin would be an excellent home for a Major League Soccer club.”

Even if MLS’ original franchise clears the many hurdles needed to leap to Austin, the club will have a difficult time finding a temporary home while a facility is being built. The most natural fit — Myers Stadium, the 20,000-seat venue on the University of Texas campus — is far from a lock to rent.

UT athletic director Mike Perrin issued this statement to the American-Statesman on Friday:

“As previously stated, we have no opposition to exploring possible collaborative opportunities with MLS. However, my first priority is to our 400-plus student-athletes.

“The idea of MLS using Mike A. Myers Stadium creates significant logistical issues that would impact roughly 25 percent of our student-athletes who use that facility on a daily basis. There are a lot of dynamics at play to consider.”

Even though no council members voted against the resolution to begin the process of identifying potential stadium sites, they did add amendments to broaden the search area beyond the urban core, to make sure no city money goes toward the facility and to appeal to any MLS clubs that might be interested in moving to Austin.

Only Crew SC ownership has publicly expressed a desire to move to Austin, and MLS holds a strong preference for downtown stadiums. Anthony Precourt, CEO of PSV, said the stadium would be privately funded.

“There are 12 cities seeking MLS expansion franchises. There is only one owner who wants to come to Austin,” said Richard Suttle, an MLS lobbyist for Austin working for PSV. “If there is one opportunity for an MLS team, it is this one.”

Yet in a twist on the night, Sean Foley, co-founder of Austin Sports & Entertainment, told the City Council his group is working on a major project in East Austin that would include a facility capable of hosting an MLS team.

“We started our group with the explicit focus on pursuing a sports and entertainment hub in District 1,” Foley said. “We seek a private piece of land, and I also would not use public funds to build a stadium. We want to do this in East Austin in alignment with Rodeo Austin,” based at the Travis County Expo Center.

“We hope that if Columbus wants to come here, they would think long and hard about District 1.”

Nearly 200 soccer supporters rallied at City Hall, and some spoke to council members during the public input portion.

The resolution will begin studying city-owned property, including underutilized parkland, that could be suitable for a 20,000- to 25,000-seat stadium and a large practice facility.

The report is scheduled to be delivered at the Dec. 7 City Council meeting, although Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the resolution, told the Statesman she might back that up a week.

Although passing the initial resolution was a clear victory for the Precourt-initiated MLS2ATX push, council members debated some wording and even voted at one point on striking any mention of the Crew or Precourt from the resolution. That effort failed 7-3.

“I want to keep the door open for anybody who wants to bring a team to Austin,” Council Member Leslie Pool said.

Council Member Ora Houston, who presides over an East Austin district, agreed and said, “I would like to expand the area to include the Travis County Expo Center,” and she called on Foley to speak again about his project, which is not affiliated with PSV.

Ultimately, Mayor Steve Adler came up with a compromise that satisfied everyone, including the phrase “and any other MLS teams” that want to move to Austin after mention of the Crew.

The Statesman spoke with Adler, Tovo and Kitchen after the meeting, and each was pleased.

“The discussion probably lasted longer than I expected, but we got to a place where we all could agree,” Tovo said.



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