Over the past three weeks, since the city was first presented the proposed terms for a stadium deal, there has been a lot of buzz about whether Austin would score a professional soccer team.
As Austinites, each of us understands the real cultural benefits that having a local team could bring, such as enhancing Austin’s sense of identity and hometown pride. We also understand Austin’s connection to soccer: During the first six days of the World Cup’s TV broadcast, Austin ranked second in U.S. viewership.
As elected officials, it is also our job to ensure that we get the best deal for taxpayers, especially when we are considering what is potentially one of the largest incentive packages in the city’s history. The deal we may be voting on in August — to build an MLS stadium at McKalla Place in District 7 — could last for the rest of our lives and impact the city’s revenues for the next 80 years. It is critical that we join this conversation with our eyes open.
Assuming the council on Thursday directs city staff to negotiate with Precourt Sports Ventures on a stadium deal, we will not know the terms of Precourt’s final proposal until city staff present them to the council in August. What we do know is which provisions we would want to see — and what information we would need — to make an informed decision.
That is why we have put together a list of principles that will guide our consideration of any deal negotiated between the city and Precourt. Our principles speak to our belief that public funding for a private stadium should be limited and accompanied by robust and real community benefits – and that it is in the council’s best interest to have complete information when we decide.
In short, we would want a mutually beneficial deal through which Precourt would lay roots in Austin as a contributing member of our community. We believe:
• It is in the best interests of both the city and Precourt for the firm to invest in our community and avoid asking taxpayers to shoulder substantial costs. A significant investment demonstrates that Precourt is committed to Austin’s future. We ask that the city negotiate a deal that minimizes any city subsidies, whether via direct spending or lost potential revenue.
• It is important for the council to have a full and complete understanding of and estimates for all city subsidies and commitments, both through direct spending and lost potential revenue.
• The council is in the best negotiating and decision-making position when we have all our options in front of us. We would also like to see information on other proposals and any opportunity cost analyses presented to the council concurrent with a proposed stadium deal.
• The terms of a complete proposed deal should be well-defined and not provide for open-ended commitments.
• It is vital for the city to enforce the terms of a deal in a way that ensures that all parties are abiding by the agreement. Enforcement should include strong penalties for relocation discussions intended to extract further city commitments.
• If the city proposes to continue to own the McKalla Place property to exempt Precourt from property taxes, then there should be strong provisions maintaining city control and maximizing commensurate community benefits. Any provisions relinquishing city control over the site — including the ability to program public parkland or use of the public stadium space on nonevent days — should be well-defined.
• A potential stadium deal needs to account for the environmental sensitivity of the area and the mobility impact on the surrounding community. A deal should indicate who is responsible for ensuring the project is designed and implemented in a way that meets the city’s standards for mitigating environmental and mobility impacts – and indicate who is responsible for funding any identified mitigation. City staff should also include Capital Metro in the negotiation.
These principles are reasonable — and our hope is this is an approach the city would take with any other large deal. We are releasing these principles as an invitation for Precourt to put its best foot forward and join the Austin community.
In their initial proposal, Precourt wrote that “Austin does not need soccer, but we hope the city wants soccer.” We believe that our community is invested in soccer. We hope that soccer wants to invest in our community.
Pool, Alter, Houston and Troxclair are Austin City Council members representing Districts 7, 10, 1 and 8, respectively.