Pressure rises to pull parkland as options for MLS stadium in Austin

Momentum is building to remove Precourt Sports Ventures’ preferred city parkland sites for a Major League Soccer stadium from consideration by the Austin City Council.

Kathie Tovo, a critical swing vote on the council in the soccer saga, told the American-Statesman on Tuesday night that Butler Shores Metropolitan Park and Roy Guerrero Metropolitan Park are generating too much public outcry to consider giving up parkland for a sports venue.

“They don’t appear to have support from the community, primarily Butler Shores, but there are general concerns about Guerrero, as well,” Tovo said. “Based on all the calls and emails our staff is getting, I don’t think either site is a viable option.

“We’re hearing the community’s message loud and clear.”

This latest development could trim PSV’s already pared-down list of potential city-owned stadium sites to one: McKalla Place, which is not parkland, near the Domain.

Precourt Sports Ventures, which owns Columbus Crew SC, is exploring a move to Austin. PSV has offered to privately finance construction of a 20,000-seat stadium if the group can find a suitable site in Austin’s urban core.

“There are other non-parkland city tracts that could be considered,” Tovo said. “I’m still very interested in seeing the team come here if there’s an arrangement that makes great sense.”

Council member Ann Kitchen, whose District 5 includes Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, plans to sponsor a resolution at the Feb. 15 Council meeting that would remove the two parkland sites in or near downtown from the list of possibilities.

Tovo said she hadn’t seen the resolution yet so she would not speculate on how she might vote. Mayor Steve Adler’s office did not respond to the Statesman’s request for comment.

Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle, who works for Precourt, wants a full hearing on the topic.

“We hope that before any of the sites on parkland are ruled out we can have a conversation about how parkland can be improved and made more accessible for all Austinites to enjoy and utilize,” he said.

“We are continuing to prepare preliminary plans, including independent studies on traffic, parking, lights and sound. We know it’s critical to examine these important components. We are hopeful that this information will be compelling enough for council and the community to continue this important discussion.”

Paul Purcell, president of the South Austin Little League that has several fields at Butler Shores, was heartened to hear the views of Kitchen and Tovo.

“We’re in favor of bringing a professional franchise to our city,” Purcell said. “However, we’re opposed to losing any of our precious parkland to build a pro sports stadium for a corporation.

“Up to this point, Precourt has been pushing their agenda and demanding what their preferred locations are with the threat of pulling out of Austin if it is not located downtown. There is plenty of land available in Austin that will not move the South Austin Little League off their home field since 1950.”

Suttle said the ballplayers could be moved to a newer nearby home, though no location has been publicly revealed. He also maintains a 20,000-seat stadium at Butler Shores would be a good fit and has talked about taking the issue to voters.

“A soccer facility can be compatible to public parkland as long as appropriate measures are taken to protect and enhance the park and make it inviting for Austinites from all parts of the city, as this will be a team and stadium that the whole community can embrace,” he said.

Kitchen, not available for interview by press time Tuesday night, told the Statesman in late November she had “grave concerns about the congested Butler Shores area. It’s a difficult spot for things like traffic, noise and the current use of that land.”

She emphasized that in an interview with the Austin Monitor on Monday.

“I continue to be excited to see the support for a soccer stadium and I am happy to hear there’s interest, but it needs to be in the right place and I don’t think our parklands are the appropriate place,” Kitchen told the Monitor.

“From my perspective, parkland should not be on the table because we need to protect open space for the future, and there are a number of other good locations I’d support.”

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