While Bobby Epstein said he is excited to reveal details this week about the pro soccer team he is starting in Austin, he made a case Wednesday for why Circuit of the Americas would be a good site for a Major League Soccer team.
Epstein, chairman of the Southeast Austin motorsports and entertainment complex, was approached by Capella Capital Partners about a joint effort with Precourt Sports Ventures to build a stadium at COTA that could house Columbus Crew SC.
“I made Capella the same offer I made (Anthony) Precourt,” Epstein told the American-Statesman. “COTA is willing to give the land free of charge. MLS would have an easily accessible stadium that could make use of already existing parking and road infrastructure, benefit from an experienced event workforce and be close to a strong soccer community.”
Capella Capital, however, hasn’t told Precourt of its proposal that the Austin developers revealed Tuesday in the Austin Business Journal, and PSV doesn’t seem interested in a partnership. The Austin City Council debated Wednesday a term sheet between Precourt and the city for PSV to privately finance a stadium at city-owned McKalla Place in North Austin.
“They (Capella) don’t have a team, and one of their proposals shows they have no understanding of MLS or PSV,” said Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle, who works for PSV. “I can’t comment further on their proposals or abilities because I’m unaware of anything they have built or developed to this scale.”
Neil Francois, Capella Capital’s managing partner, told the Statesman his group will submit two mixed-use proposals to the city Thursday for development of McKalla Place. Capella owns adjacent property to the site. Both plans include an MLS stadium, but the Capella reps’ favorite involves the stadium at COTA.
“Wakefield Beasley did our design, and that group did The Battery in Atlanta with the Braves stadium,” Francois said. “This is not their first rodeo.
“We think COTA is a win-win. The city wins because it gets tax revenues from our development at McKalla. MLS and Precourt win because they get free property that already has infrastructure. COTA has 20,000 adjacent parking spaces. Some people bring up COTA’s location, but the race track is just a half-mile further from downtown than McKalla Place.”
Epstein said he knows MLS wants urban core stadiums — COTA still has a rural feel to it — but he doesn’t see it as a deal-breaker.
“We spoke with MLS several times about stadium location and they expressed their preference for a downtown site, but they certainly didn’t rule out COTA or other sites we discussed with them,” he said.
In January, PSV ruled out the Travis County Expo Center, one of five sites originally identified by the city, because of its remote location and lack of urban development and no entertainment options around the site.
When asked why Capella Capital didn’t run its plans past Precourt, its potential partner, Francois said it was most important for his group to let the city know there are alternatives to PSV’s plan.
“This process was set up for Precourt to directly negotiate with the city and the developers are left off to the side,” he said. “We have no control over what Precourt or the city decide, but we want them to make an educated decision involving multiple plans. Then let the chips fall where they may.”
Whitfield & Chen, another developer, said it will submit its mixed-use vision for McKalla Place to the city Friday. It does not include a soccer stadium.