MLS stadium search gets delayed again, pushing it to spring or summer

More than 3½ months after Columbus Crew SC ownership publicly cast its eyes on Austin for 2019, the potential move seems as far away as ever. What’s followed is a series of stops and starts and a general lack of clarity.

The only folks celebrating so far are neighborhood groups and activists working to strike parkland from the list of potential Major League Soccer stadium sites. They were successful in derailing Precourt Sports Venture’s dream site, Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, before the debate even began.

On Saturday, the Save Our Parkland forces are rallying at Roy G. Guerrero Metropolitan Park, another desirable site identified by city staff Dec. 12, to remove it from the dwindling list of options. A group called Friends of Austin Parkland has started a petition to eliminate Guerrero.

A city memorandum Friday requested a postponement of the soccer agenda item at the Feb. 15 council meeting and delayed a full vetting of any stadium site for an additional three months. That extends the process into late spring/early summer.

“Upon consensus between the suggested city of Austin properties and the Precourt Sports Ventures property analysis, city staff will commence with a robust community engagement,” Kimberly McNeeley, acting director of Austin Parks and Recreation, wrote in a memo.

“It will be at that time city staff can select an appropriate council date. A robust community engagement is estimated to take approximately three months.”

Basically, Precourt Sports Ventures needs more time to analyze its favorite sites, and city staff can’t begin its more exhaustive research until PSV declares its preferred destination.

Three delays have followed since Nov. 9 when the City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking staff to produce a list of possible stadium and training facility options.

PSV put out a statement later Friday saying it anticipated the latest delay once Council Member Ann Kitchen pulled her resolution last week that would ban all parkland.

“The contents of the memo are consistent with the recent planning discussions, and we are continuing to finish our assessment on the remaining recommended sites,” the PSV statement said. “As we’ve narrowed down potential sites, we’ve identified numerous factors that need to be analyzed to make the best decision for both the community and the soccer club.”

McNeeley did not return phone calls Friday, and PSV would not comment on the record, other than the statement.

Mayor Steve Adler remains encouraged.

“We’re all still real excited about the chance major league soccer comes to Austin,” Adler said in a statement to the American-Statesman.

“We just need to find the right site, and the sooner the better. There’s nothing to come before the Council quite yet, thus the agenda change. Efforts are continuing.”

City staff identified eight potential stadium and/or training facility sites for the team. Recent focus has centered on McKalla Place, near the Domain, and Guerrero in East Austin, but the Statesman has been told there could be previously unnamed options.

“We probably considered more than 40 properties,” McNeeley said Wednesday. “A lot of the site choices were made because of acreage. Many just weren’t big enough. By process of elimination, we got down to those eight choices. There are a few others,” she said without naming them.

The next meeting where soccer could be discussed is March 1, meaning June 14 is the absolute earliest a stadium solution could be ironed out and fit the council schedule. If parkland is in play, a November election is likely in the cards. A temporary home would be needed for 2019 and ’20.

The Crew, already training for weeks, opens the regular season March 3, so its fate will be up in the air long after the MLS’ regular season kicks off.

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