The Travis County Exposition Center has been ruled out as a possible Major League Soccer stadium site by Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of Columbus Crew SC.
PSV officials told the American-Statesman they toured the Expo Center and researched it, but that the location, roughly 10 miles from downtown, did not fit their needs for an urban-core facility with existing infrastructure and entertainment options.
The Expo Center was one of five city-owned stadium sites identified by city staff as potential locations for Precourt Sports, exploring a move to Austin for the 2019 MLS season, to build a privately financed stadium.
Another site, a former Home Depot tract at St. Johns Avenue and Interstate 35, has all but fallen out of the running, as well.
“At first blush, it doesn’t check a lot of the boxes we need,” said Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle, who’s working for PSV, without going into detail.
That leaves three options for a potential stadium location: Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, Roy Guerrero Metropolitan Park and McKalla Place, near the intersection of Burnet Road and Braker Lane.
McKalla Place represents the path of least resistance because it is not on city-owned parkland, but Precourt’s group continues to favor Butler Shores. They refer to it as the Toomey Road site because Butler Shores is so often confused with the better-known Butler Park.
“Of all the sites, Toomey Road is the most desirable, most feasible for what we know right now,” Suttle said. “Despite things you hear from folks who are against it, we haven’t found anything that makes the site unworkable.
“We’re looking at other parking and traffic options, but so far there’s no hurdle we think would be impossible to overcome.”
City Council member Ann Kitchen and neighborhood groups are strongly opposed to the idea.
Suttle and PSV president Dave Greeley emphasized to the American-Statesman this week that a lot of work still needs to be done on their end and that any meaningful soccer action might be postponed from the Feb. 15 City Council agenda.
Late Wednesday Kimberly McNeeley, acting director of Austin Parks and Recreation, issued a memorandum saying that city staff will need a minimum of two months to provide property analysis and gather public input once PSV offers feedback on the sites. To this point, PSV has not given the city its preferred site.
“I don’t view Feb. 15 as the magic date,” Suttle said. “Analyzing the city sites is a very exhaustive process. We have traffic planners, architects, engineers, the best and the brightest involved. We’ve had meetings with in excess of 20 people.
“Between the holidays, flu season and winter storms, it’s been slow going. I’m not sure what, if anything, will be decided Feb. 15. It’s possible the agenda gets pushed back again. We’ve still got to complete our analysis of the remaining sites, to know exactly what PSV is willing to do and what doesn’t work for us.”
Austin Sports & Entertainment, which has plans for an arena and a open-air stadium at the Expo Center, said Precourt’s decision does not affect their project.
“Our commitment to the city and the county is to bring a world-class sports and entertainment facility to our community,” ASE co-founder Sean Foley said Wednesday. “The East Austin District will serve as a new home for Rodeo Austin, create economic development with local jobs and needed infrastracture and offer local programming at a unique and dynamic complex.
“The East Austin District was in development before an existing pro soccer team was a consideration. Community support for our project from all of Central Texas has been and continues to be humbling and overwhelming. We are in this for the long term.”
Suttle said his group applauds Austin Sports & Entertainment’s development efforts in an area of the city that deserves more attention.
“We wish them the best on their project,” he said. “It’s ambitious, long-term and there will be growth out that way down the road, no question. What they’re doing just doesn’t work for our model.”
Suttle also said PSV is devoting considerable time to finding a temporary stadium solution while a new facility is built. He indicated there could be multiple options, without revealing details.
An influential Austin lawyer who has been recognized as one of the area’s premier real-estate lobbyists, Suttle largely exuded optimism about Austin landing its first major league sports franchise, although he sounded a note of caution.
“I’m still very excited about the opportunity,” he said. “There is nothing that dampens my spirits to this point. Yet the uncertainty can make owners and the league uneasy.
“We’re all under the gun because there is a finite amount of time where the city is going to have to make a decision, especially if an election is needed. You know, 2019 isn’t far away.”