Bohls: Crew owner Precourt remains committed to Austin move

Anthony Precourt’s mind is made up. He’s found his city.

Now he just has to find a site.

“Our bar is very high as it relates to the site,” the owner of the Columbus Crew said. “That’s everything.”

Almost five months after he proclaimed he wanted to move his Major League Soccer team to Austin, he broke his long silence and was visible at last in our town long enough to meet with the city’s mayor, the city manager fresh on the job and three reporters from the American-Statesman. It’s a start.

RELATED: Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt breaks silence on Austin MLS relocation

The 2018 MLS season officially begins Saturday. And it’s been open season for critics of the 47-year-old head of Precourt Sports Ventures, who have called him every name in the book and some not even in the book.

I’m guessing at this stage, there’s a 50-50 chance the Crew calls Austin home before the 2019 season, but that may be too high.

Time is of the essence for PSV, which has precious little of it. Precourt might be moving away from Austin’s parkland sites as a stadium location because of the necessity of a high-risk and expensive November election late in this process. Smart money would take Guerrero Colorado River Park off the list and push PSV toward the 24-acre, city-owned McKalla Place 11 miles from downtown or an undisclosed private site.

“We’re going to be more cautious as it relates to parkland,” Precourt said. McKalla is “midtown. It’s the new downtown. If you were to throw a dart at the point in the metropolitan statistical area that’s the most accessible to the highest number of people in Austin, the Domain (area) is compelling.”

The boyish-looking, introverted Precourt sat down with the American-Statesman as he sought to shed some of the ambiguity of his mission, and and impress local critics who have thrown shade on him for moving too slowly and too disjointedly, and answer far-away enemies who want his hide.

He’s likable enough, which I’m sure will send Ohioans to Twitter in full rage since he’s as popular in Columbus as, say, Jim Harbaugh. But we liked Charlie Strong, too. Precourt doesn’t come across as arrogant in person. Nor does he resemble the spawn of Satan. I saw no horns. And, yes, he’s an unknown quantity for us Austinites because he’s been largely invisible and anything but transparent in this controversial matter.

Asked his level of confidence in moving to Austin, he said, “I don’t know if I can have a number to place on that.”

But if it were in the 80 percent range, I bet he’d say so. He’s hopeful, at best.

Precourt has been taken to task in this space for the glacier pace at which PSV has worked behind the scenes to convince city leaders, businesspeople and the public at large that an MLS franchise would be a good fit for Austin. I think it would be good for Austin and would work here.

It’s a shame that Austin couldn’t acquire an expansion franchise or one moved from a different city that was more cavalier about potentially losing its soccer club. I feel Columbus’ pain. There’s been little to suggest our city has a feverish desire to claim one it can call its own, but with so many move-ins and newcomers here, it’s becoming less and less a bastion of Longhorns fans.

But this much is certain: Precourt is completely convinced pro soccer can thrive in this area with 2.1 million people to draw from. Make no bones about that.

How sold is he on Austin?

“I have a total weakness for queso,” he said.

That, of course, is funny but also a requirement for living here, so Precourt at least passes that test. We also prefer a guy who will look you in the eye and not try to reinvent anything, yet another reason we sent former Texas athletic director Steve Patterson packing. Some MLS franchises revitalize a city and a downtown area. That isn’t necessary here.

And Precourt isn’t the least bit interested in selling the franchise he has owned since 2013.

“I’m not a seller,” he said at the end of a 45-minute interview.

But he is a mover.

As evidence of his commitment, Precourt reminded that he announced his intentions to leave Columbus shortly before the Crew’s postseason run — a bold move, indeed.

He has identified potential local ownership possibilities, so he’s open to selling minority partnerships in the team. PSV President Dave Greeley said the group has identified 37 local companies it plans to hit up. Precourt said he would finance “a portion”of the estimated $200 million cost with private debt financing, “but it’s all site-relative.” Personally, he’d be wise to sell 49 percent of the club to local owners vested in the mission.

Assuming the league office gives its blessing to a site here, it seems Precourt is looking at these four options, in order:

1. Move to Austin.

2. Move to Sacramento, Calif.

3. Sell to another owner.

4. Keep the club in Columbus.

5. Delete his Twitter account.

No. 5 might be too low. His heart’s been set on Austin for years, maybe since the days he used to frequent watering holes in the 512 or go water skiing on Lake Travis. He’s convinced soccer would work in a city this vibrant.

Still, he’s anything but an open book, and that can foster distrust.

On Columbus being an untenable option, he said, “I prefer this discussion be about Austin. We had success in Columbus, but it hasn’t been sustainable.”

On possible moving to Sacramento, fairly near his Bay Area home, he said, “This conversation is about Austin. There are 11 markets that are participating in this round of expansion. and there is strong demand from other markets for an MLS team.”

On other potential Austin sites such as Burger Center, owned by the Austin school district, he said, “I’ve heard of it. We’ve contemplated every site you’ve mentioned.”

So mum’s still the word to a large degree. Except on queso. He’s all for that.

As for Ohio, well, LeBron came back. But then, he may be packing his bags soon, too.

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