Austin Mayor Steve Adler is hardly ready to kick the ball into the net, but he did express a preference Tuesday for Major League Soccer at McKalla Place.
Adler made his first public comments since the release of Friday’s city staff report on the 24-acre, city-owned North Austin property and a proposal by the Columbus Crew SC owner to build a 20,118-seat stadium on that site near the Domain.
“I was pleased to see that the report indicated McKalla was a viable location for soccer. It also pointed out there were other viable uses for it, and that doesn’t surprise me,” Adler said. “The council’s going to have to step in and wade through those competing priorities. My sense is that (soccer) is a really unique opportunity to gather all parts of our community in a public setting in ways that don’t happen now.
“While I’m a huge proponent of affordable housing — and will vote to expand the housing element of the bond and using much of our publicly available land for affordable housing — I think the best use of this property in this location is to help facilitate Major League Soccer.”
District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria wants to make an MLS deal work in Austin, but a tight timeline is a concern. Representatives of Precourt Sports Ventures, who operate the Crew SC, have said they need some kind of agreement this summer in order to move the team here in 2019. The City Council has meetings June 14 and June 28 before taking a break until Aug. 9.
“The way our session is filling up, it’s going to be very hard to get it done in two meetings,” Renteria said. “There are points in that proposal likely to be negotiated. We’re going to have a lot of questions for them. Unless they get right down to it, without a lot of back and forth, I just don’t see getting this done in less than a month. We have so much on our plate right now.”
Renteria, who identified himself a soccer and pro sports fan, said the sticking point could be who pays for $16 million in infrastructure improvements, including $13 million for a proposed Capital Metro rail station.
“The city report was encouraging for soccer, that it could generate a lot of money. I was pretty excited,” he said. “In the proposal, I was glad to see they’re making that commitment to Foundation Communities.”
Foundation Communities is a nonprofit that builds affordable housing in Austin.
“Then further down I saw the infrastructure costs they want paid up front, and that’s money we don’t have. For most development, we don’t go around waiving fees, unless we’re housing homeless people.”
Adler noted he’s been so tied up in CodeNext, Austin’s complicated attempt to rewrite its land development code, that he hasn’t covered the full report or proposal.
“There’s still more detail we need to get from the soccer team and from the league, and I need to better understand how we can still get some community benefits associated with affordable housing from this,” he said. “In addition to the ones in the report, I’m interested in knowing if we can dedicate sales tax generated from the site towards the affordable housing trust fund.”
Renteria said affordable housing at McKalla Place is not realistic at this point.
“I’m all for affordable housing, but we don’t have the money for that right now,” he said. “Maybe with some partnerships down the road. The funding is just not there at the moment.”
Renteria made a case for MLS at McKalla — with the right deal.
“I really want soccer. It would be a big plus for Austin,” he said. “Yet we need to protect the taxpayers. It comes down to whether we can afford the infrastructure improvements and the real costs. When they finance that stadium, we want to make sure we don’t get stuck.”