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Austin City Council knocks around McKalla MLS stadium proposal


No surprises in 90-minute discussion about possible stadium site

Pleased Precourt official says, ‘there was no poison pill or anything.’

The Austin City Council kicked around a proposal to bring Major League Soccer to Austin for the first time at a work session Tuesday without anything close to a consensus emerging.

Council Member Leslie Pool once again objected to the city making a deal with owners of Columbus Crew SC, who want to build a stadium at McKalla Place, in Pool’s district, in exchange for use of the city-owned land.

Kathie Tovo, who sponsored two resolutions that helped get soccer to this point, reiterated what she told the American-Statesman on Monday. She is “excited about the possibility and optimistic about a deal getting done” but has a long list of unanswered questions and improvements needed in Precourt Sports Ventures’ proposal.

Council Member Alison Alter, who has aligned with Pool in the debate, cited an economic study by Stanford professor Roger Noll critical of most stadium deals cities strike with major league sports owners.

“Austin is wonderful, but we don’t defy the laws of economics,” Alter said. “According to this proposal, we’re giving away our land for free. I have an issue with that.”

The topic of soccer, which took up nearly 90 minutes of the work session, is not on Thursday’s agenda for the regular council meeting. The next meeting is June 28 before the council takes its summer break until Aug. 9.

Precourt Sports Ventures wants to have an agreement with the city by the end of June. A group spokesman said he thought the work session went well.

“I came away excited because it was the first public airing of where council is on the proposal and the city analysis, and there was no poison pill or anything that indicated they could not move forward with this,” said Mark Littlefield, representing PSV.

“It is the will of the council to continue the conversation, sit down with PSV and city staff and get these questions they have answered and see if we can come to an agreement that works. This was all we could do today.”

Several council members said they have not had time to dig deep through Precourt’s 189-page proposal offered on June 1.

Mayor Steve Adler, a proponent of MLS at McKalla “with the right deal,” had little to say. Four council members — Greg Casar, Ora Houston, Ellen Troxclair (just back from maternity leave) and Delia Garza, who had to leave early — did not comment on the subject.

Pool reiterated that she will call for a bidding process for use of the McKalla land at the June 28 meeting. Two developers have expressed interest in the property, one already making the city a $22.5 million offer.

“These are real proposals, we have to take them under consideration,” Alter said.

Council Member Ann Kitchen asked, “What economic value could come to the city if that property was used in a different way (than soccer)?”

Jimmy Flannigan of District 6 said the council needs to know more about “opportunity costs” and “better quantify ways the community can use the stadium.”

Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria said he’s concerned about transportation issues for McKalla Place.

Pool grilled Brailsford & Dunlavey, the group commissioned by the city to do an economic impact for the city report on McKalla.

“We do not have a bias for making these projects happen,” B&D President Chris Dunlavey said. “We protect the city.”

Pool also said Austin shouldn’t be rushed into a deal with Precourt to get MLS.

“We know MLS likes Austin,” she said. We don’t have to think of this as our last chance ever.”

No ownership group in Austin has stepped forward to make an expansion bid.

Tovo, while raising many concerns, sounded optimistic for those wanting to make a deal with Precourt.

“We have to move forward in a firm way with affordable housing. I want to be firm on that,” she said. “But while there are other sites possible for affordable housing, there may not be other sites available for a soccer stadium. That’s why I support the idea to this point.”

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