Crew ownership backs away from Butler Shores as Austin stadium site

The MLS to Austin soccer saga bounced in different directions Friday.

First, Precourt Sports Ventures announced that it was removing Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, considered to be the group’s dream stadium site, from consideration as a potential home of a Major League Soccer team yet to be transplanted from Ohio.

Then Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen, reacting to PSV’s move, said she would withdraw her resolution that called for blocking the consideration of city parkland as a possible stadium site. The resolution was expected to be considered at the council’s Feb. 15 meeting.

“I believe this is a step in the right direction,” said Kitchen, whose District 5 includes Butler Shores. “I understand that city staff will not bring forward a report on potential locations at that time, so our resolution will not be on the agenda.

“I believe we can find an appropriate location for a soccer stadium that works for all.”

Meanwhile in Columbus, Ohio — home to the Crew SC soccer franchise owned by PSV — there were reports Friday that PSV’s CEO, Anthony Precourt, had reopened the discussion about what it would take to keep the Crew, the original MLS franchise, in its current market.

Austin remains the largest city in the United States without a major league sports franchise, and Precourt could change that by bringing the Crew to town next year. PSV has offered to privately finance a 20,000-seat, $200 million stadium if a suitable site can be found.

From the start of its discussions with city officials, PSV had cast its eyes longingly at Butler Shores, a waterfront tract on Lady Bird Lake that offers dynamic views of the Austin skyline. In recent weeks, though, opposition mounted to the idea of using city parkland for a stadium to be set in an already highly congested area.

“Some in the community and the neighbors near Butler Shores have valid concerns about a possible stadium location at that site,” PSV President Dave Greeley said Friday in a statement. “Based on this feedback, we are no longer exploring this location and are continuing our due diligence on other possible locations in the urban core.

“As we have stated from the onset of this process, finding the right site for a soccer park is of the utmost importance as we contemplate bringing MLS to Austin.”

Greeley’s statement left Paul Purcell, president of the South Austin Little League, which plays baseball and softball games on fields at Butler Shores, in a celebratory mood.

“We are elated,” Purcell said. “This has been our home for the previous 68 years, and we plan to keep it our home for the next 68. Now we can get ready for the spring season without this issue lurking in the background.

“We do not want to see any parkland taken away for the sake of a stadium. We are excited to see plans for the McKalla location that seems to have the most advantages for the soccer team.”

Last week, PSV narrowed a list of five potential city-owned stadium sites to three: Butler Shores, Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park and McKalla Place near the Domain. With Butler Shores out, the focus shifts to Guerrero, which is parkland, and McKalla, which is not.

Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, whose District 3 includes Guerrero, told the American-Statesman on Wednesday he would like to see that park considered as a stadium site.

“We’ll continue our due diligence on those two sites and possibly some others,” said Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle, who works for PSV.

Council Member Kathie Tovo told the Statesman last week that city staff might be able to produce more options.

“I’m still encouraged, but we’re going to need help from the city and the soccer community to pull this off before it’s too late.” Suttle said, without naming a deadline.

Later Friday, Suttle spoke with the Statesman again, appealing to Austin soccer fans to let their voices be heard.

“Precourt continues to put a large amount of resources toward bringing MLS to Austin,” he said. “There’s a group of Austinites that are very good at saying ‘no’ without having a discussion or looking at any information.

“In order for this to work, the majority of Austinites that want it here are going to have to rally and say ‘yes’ to something and let their elected officials know.”

Suttle added that his group will continue to research sites that everyone can agree on.

In Ohio, Alex Fischer, the CEO of Columbus Partnership — a civic organization that includes the city’s top business leaders — said Precourt has been in touch with potential local investors with interests in keeping the MLS club in the Ohio capital.

“I know that they’ve had some good preliminary conversations, and I think that’s a good sign,” he told the Columbus Dispatch.

Fischer told the Statesman that his lengthy Q&A published in the Dispatch came in response to comments made by MLS Commissioner Don Garber this week in a Sports Illustrated interview. In the interview, Garber explained how the MLS agreed at the time of PSV’s purchase of the Crew that the new ownership group would be granted the unrestricted option to relocate the franchise to Austin at a future date.

Fischer called Garber’s acknowledgement of the long-rumored Austin clause an “olive branch” to Crew fans in Columbus.

“The press was asking us a lot of questions about it so it seemed reasonable to give our perspective on things since the commissioner was talking about it as well,” Fischer said.

Fischer also said he has been monitoring the situation in Austin, including PSV’s announcement Friday regarding Butler Shores.

“It kind of looked like they were going for broke and being pretty tone deaf leading up to today,” Fischer said of PSV’s officials. “Now to abruptly change kind of generally mirrors the experience that we’ve had with them in Columbus.”

In order for the Crew to stay in Columbus, Garber told Sports Illustrated, the No. 1 priority would be to reach a deal on a new downtown stadium.

A popular spot that has been suggested is a 40-acre plot of land in the Ohio city’s Arena District that’s owned by Nationwide Realty, the real estate development affiliate of Nationwide Insurance.

“Hopefully that local investor is Nationwide Realty that can bring the land to the table,” said longtime Columbus attorney and sports agent Bret Adams.

Additional material from American-Statesman correspondent Chris Bils.

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