Austin City Council votes ‘yes’ to MLS at McKalla Place


Highlights

Columbus Crew owner given green light for stadium by Austin City Council.

Mayor Adler: ‘I believe in the power of sports to bring us together.’

Legal roadblocks remain before MLS team can move to Central Texas.

Major League Soccer in Austin is closer than ever to becoming a reality after the City Council voted Wednesday to strike a deal with an ownership group that will build a stadium near the Domain.

Ten months after Anthony Precourt announced his intent to move to Austin, the council voted 7-4 to allow the investor/operator of Columbus Crew SC to privately finance a $200 million stadium at McKalla Place in exchange for the city-owned land.

“I believe in the power of sports to bring us together,” Mayor Steve Adler told the American-Statesman. “A major-league team was a missing piece here. You cannot measure its impact in dollars and cents. Soccer is all-inclusive and can help unite us. The lack of that kind of unifying force has been our Achilles heel.”

Precourt aims to move the team to Austin for the 2019 season and play in a temporary home for two years while the 20,000-seat stadium goes up at McKalla Place. However, he and the league are ensnarled in lawsuits in Ohio and he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to officially announce the move. Wednesday’s vote, however, was a major breakthrough.

“It’s an exciting day … awesome, actually,” Precourt told the Statesman. “We think in Austin we can realize our club ambition to be a world-class team. We’ve made the playoffs three of the last four years. We’ll bring a team that will make Austin proud, and we’ll be proud of Austin.”

Now Precourt needs a place to play in 2019, a training facility, a name, uniform and colors. Precourt Sports Ventures officials have told the Statesman the short list of temporary game-day sites includes University of Texas facilities, Dell Diamond in Round Rock and Bobcat Stadium in San Marcos.

“There is so much work to be done, but we couldn’t get to the next step until we had a long-term stadium deal secure,” he said. “In a couple days or next week things will start coming together. We’ll have announcements.”

Not everybody is happy. Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district includes McKalla Place, led an effort to defeat the proposal. She voted against it, along with Alison Alter, Ellen Troxclair and Ora Houston.

“I could not support it because it is too much of a giveaway to a private company,” Pool said. “It gives special treatment to Precourt that we don’t extend to even our local businesses.

“Yet I fought the good fight, and I’m proud of the work I did to hold Precourt’s feet to the fire and push us towards a better deal than we would have gotten otherwise.”

Late-game bartering added at least $7 million to the PSV tab, including $3.64 million for Capital Metro, an affordable-housing element, more money for youth programs, larger free-ticket commitments for underprivileged youth and other ancillary costs.

“I’m a little concerned about some of the financial amendments tacked on,” Adler said. “It’s important for the club to not just move here but succeed. I think PSV had just enough leeway to do it.

“We got a great deal for Austin, one of the best I’ve seen in sports. But we want the team to be strong.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored multiple pro-soccer resolutions as far back as last December, wasn’t sold on the agreement until the last 48 hours.

“Ultimately, (PSV) addressed many of my concerns and those of my colleagues,” Tovo said. “I couldn’t support a deal that didn’t give our city the type of wide-ranging benefits it deserves for use of that land. What we ended up with isn’t perfect, but it enhances our community. I’m not a sports fan, but I like all that a soccer team can bring.”

Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, who is a soccer fan, said, “So many people in my district have been asking, ‘Are we getting soccer?’ This is a good opportunity for us, and I think it’s the right place.”

Developers presented mixed-use plans for the 24-acre property, only one of which included an MLS stadium. Those visions were largely swept aside.

Josh Babetski, founder of MLS to Austin in 2013, said his supporters group planned to party deep into the night.

“It’s been a huge effort,” Babetski said. “We’re just really excited, and hopefully now we can get out of the political business and back into the fan business. Things like chants … and beer selections.”

But groups in Austin who oppose the deal still expect to have a say. Open records lawyer Bill Aleshire has hinted at legal action. Activist Linda Curtis, head of a political action committee that successfully got CodeNext on November’s ballot, said her group will begin efforts to force an election on the MLS stadium.

“The majority of this council is cowardly,” Curtis said. “They didn’t want to take a full vote or review a massive project on a city-owned asset that involved public housing. It is amazing to me how they are getting away with this, so they think.”

Curtis said it is too late to force a soccer referendum on November’s ballot. She is targeting May for a possible election.



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