Austin identifies sites for viable MLS stadium or practice facility


Highlights

The owners of Columbus Crew SC team are exploring a move to Austin in 2019 if a suitable site for a stadium.

Butler Shores is among the sites favored by the team’s lobbyist for a 20,000-seat stadium.

But the city is also looking at sites that wouldn’t involve using parkland.

Austin city staffers identified eight city-owned sites Tuesday that could house a Major League Soccer stadium or practice facility, including three on parkland.

Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of Columbus Crew SC, announced Oct. 17 that it was exploring a move to Austin in 2019 if a suitable site for a privately funded stadium can be found.

The five possible stadium sites include three pieces of parkland: Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, Guerrero Metro Park and the Travis County Exposition Center.

“We’re encouraged. It looks like the city did an exhaustive search of land, and they turned up some interesting possibilities,” Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle, who’s working for Precourt Sports Ventures, told the American-Statesman. “We were familiar with several of these places, but some of them are new. We look forward to going over the pros and cons of each site with the city. It’s clear this project is moving forward.”

Butler Shores, previously described as “near perfect” by Suttle, is known to be Precourt’s favorite site for a 20,000-seat stadium that could cost $200 million to build.

Yet any use of parkland will generate a heated community debate and possibly an election, despite a poll released Tuesday by the social media group MLS2ATX that shows strong support for a privately financed stadium on underutilized city parkland.

Two northern sites were among the nonparkland options. One, at 10414 McKalla Place, is close to the Domain, near the intersection of Burnet Road and Braker Lane. The other, identified as the former site of a Home Depot, is near the intersection of Interstate 35 and U.S. 290.

“The McKalla Place site is outside the core, but it sounds interesting to us,” Suttle said. “We’ll have to take a closer look at what’s around there. I don’t know much about the Home Depot property.”

Only Butler Shores, Guerrero and the former Home Depot site are within the urban core, a prerequisite mentioned by both Major League Soccer and the Precourt group.

Five locations were listed as potential sites for a $30 million to $50 million training facility: the Burger Center in Sunset Valley, owned by the Austin school district, and a pair of city-owned, East Austin parkland properties at Bohm District Park and Walnut Creek Sports Park. Two sites mentioned for a possible stadium - Guerrero Metro Park and the Expo Center - could be used for training facility as well.

On Tuesday, the City Council tabled the possibility of any action on a stadium site Thursday, pushing the issue back to its next regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 1.

Council Member Kathie Tovo and Mayor Steve Adler, among others, suggested the six-week postponement would give the city and Precourt Sports Ventures more time to carefully weigh the options. Suttle agreed.

“It became clear to us that more time and investigation was needed between the Precourt group and the city,” he said. “We will discuss all the possibilities presented. The next step is to talk about a deal structure. If it’s parkland, then there’s the election question. We hope that within a week or a few weeks we can have the initial conversation on the properties.”

An October survey by Opinion Analysts, which polled 400 likely voters, showed three of four Austinites surveyed approve of bringing an MLS team to town. Almost 60 percent approved of the idea of a privately financed stadium on underutilized parkland.

At Tuesday’s work session, City Council Member Pio Renteria said Precourt Sports Ventures would be “missing out” if it didn’t consider the Austin Sports & Entertainment group’s plan to build a stadium and arena replacing the Travis County Expo Center.

Yet Suttle said one thing his group accomplished in recent days was having MLS officials clarify to council members that Precourt Sports Ventures is “the only shot we have for obtaining MLS.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen said she would like to see Austin get an MLS team but that she cannot support the Crew playing at Butler Shores in her district. She sent a letter Monday night to residents in that neighborhood, saying a stadium would cause too many traffic, lighting and noise issues.

Suttle said Austin is on the cusp of luring its first major league sports franchise.

“Our goal is to have the team in a temporary facility here in 2019 while a new place is being built,” he said. Precourt Sports Ventures President “Dave Greeley said the only thing preventing that is having the appropriate stadium site here. I think we can all come together to make that happen.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this story was edited to clarify how many sites could possibly be used as a practice facility.



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