The owner of the new USL Austin franchise, addressing criticism over where the team will play, told a local soccer fan site that he preferred to build a downtown stadium but it wasn’t economically feasible.
Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein announced plans last week for a 5,000-seat facility at the race track to house a team that will take the field in 2019 in the second-tier professional league.
Some fans have expressed disappointment in the location and drive time to the sprawling motorsports and entertainment facility in southeast Austin.
“Our first choice would be a municipal stadium located in the heart of town,” Epstein said in an open letter to Violet Crown Soccer. “Near the Palmer Events Center or Convention Center would be our first choice, within walking distance of bars and restaurants. That takes tens of millions of dollars. It’s just not an option for 2019 and this team.”
Epstein decided to address fans directly. A criticism of Austin Aztex management was lack of contact with the public.
“A lot of factors go into these sorts of decisions, and I trusted that if fans were provided all the information, they’d see, and appreciate, our rationale,” Epstein told the American-Statesman on Tuesday.
While most reaction has been positive, there are skeptics — especially on social media — to a new stadium at COTA, an expansion of the FC Barcelona training academy that opens Friday. “COTA is hard to get to — no mass transit, middle of nowhere … hard to build a good game-day atmosphere,” tweeted one Austin resident.
Another poster wrote on the Violet Crown site in response to Epstein’s letter: “It is a sign of how desperate USL is to get into Austin that they would approve a slapdash facility in the middle of nowhere that is smaller than real facilities like those in (Rio Grande Valley) and San Antonio.”
Epstein, in his post, said the 25-minute drive from downtown is generally “painless” on a Saturday night when most games will be played and that it helps to have a “Ben White/71 clear of stop lights.”
“The reality is that Austin has grown, downtown is expensive and not everything can be downtown,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, Cap Metro does not yet serve this part of the city. But it is very common for mass transit systems to add service for special events, and we are encouraging Cap Metro to do this.”
Epstein said the savings from building at COTA, where much of the infrastructure already is in place, could be applied to the team bankroll.
“We have set our sights on winning and would prefer to spend the money on signing good players, instead of just paying stadium rent,” he wrote.
His stadium wish list has four items:
- Have a field with international dimensions and no football lines. Try for natural grass.
- Create a rowdy atmosphere best obtained in an intimate stadium.
- Get fans close to the action and provide them easy parking access.
- Control concessions and revenue streams.
“Our main objective is to have a team with a real chance to win, give fans and players a great setting to enjoy the game and have the ability to overcome financial challenges and obtain longevity,” he wrote.