When ranking the physical treasures of Austin, McKalla Place won’t land in anybody’s top 10. Or top 50.
Nonetheless, the 24-acre, city-owned property in North Austin is part of a shrinking group of properties that have been offered to Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of Columbus Crew SC, as potential sites for a 20,000-seat stadium. PSV officials have said the MLS franchise now dwelling in Ohio could relocate to Austin if a suitable stadium plan takes root.
Right now 10414 McKalla Lane isn’t pretty. The tract’s desolate and bleak, surrounded by warehouses and industrial parkways. And it comes with a long and sordid history of what city staff called “significant environmental issues.”
The city purchased the property in 1995 from Reichhold Chemicals for the bargain-basement price of $1.4 million. Chemical companies have been located there since 1957, and archived American-Statesman stories reveal a history of explosions, unstable ground and chemical dumps into the soil, which was still giving off foul odors as recently as 2004.
The city sank nearly $5 million into cleanups — the most recent one coming in 2005 — and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality signed off on the remediation Dec. 19.
Yet McKalla Place is just a stone’s throw from the Domain, the smash-hit, mixed-use development that’s a sort of second downtown for Austin. It doesn’t take a wild imagination to envision a 20,000-seat stadium at McKalla Place being the economic driver that connects the two places.
“McKalla is a viable option. You could get excited thinking about the potential for linkage to the Domain,” Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle, who works for PSV, told the Statesman. “I am concerned whether fans in South Austin would consider it too far away.”
PSV President Dave Greeley said McKalla Place comes with challenges.
“A major issue is immediate access,” he said. “The first time I went there, I couldn’t find it. You go to the (Paragon) print shop, stop and look left. Short of drone deliveries, I’m not sure how you get fans in there. It’s kind of the donut hole in the middle of the donut.”
Brew pubs have sprung up near McKalla Place. And it isn’t far from MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and U.S. 183 and is bordered by Braker Lane and Burnet Road. Yet the property doesn’t have an entry, lacks sidewalks and could use a walking bridge over Braker Lane to connect to the Domain.
City Council Member Leslie Pool, whose District 7 includes McKalla, told the Statesman the onus would be on PSV to improve the infrastracture.
“If the city provides that land, then city residents should expect to see some significant community benefits coming back to them in return — a rail station, sidewalks, of course,” Pool said. “And it should be clear to all that Mr. Precourt and his investors would have no expectation that the city would provide subsidies or incentives of any kind.”
Lauraine Rizer, Officer of Real Estate for Austin, said the city asked Capital Metro if it would be willing to move its Kramer Lane rail stop, which lacks parking, about one mile to McKalla or the Domain and received an encouraging response.
“We’re trying to develop a synergy with our site to create better mobility,” Rizer said. “If we can get those access issues fixed, a rail station and on-site parking, we think it’s worth having a massive study done to see what that would yield. The soccer owners could negotiate with adjoining property owners.
“I’m very confident this area is in a favorable transition and, if ever there was a time to do this, now is the time.”
Pool, who suggested Precourt should build the Cap Metro site, prefers the soccer team look elsewhere in ATX.
“I’d rather they find a piece of private land rather than expecting the city of Austin to provide public land,” she said, “and I adamantly oppose using city-owned parkland for a private-sector enterprise of any kind.”
McKalla’s checkered past has long been a problem for the city. Reichhold used extremely flammable chemicals at the site, including benzoyl peroxide. The city spent more than $1 million in litigation against Reichhold and eventually was awarded $3.6 million in damages to help with remediation.
“They cleaned the site to the bedrock,” Rizer said. “We’re convinced it’s in good shape.”
Austin lawyer and soccer enthusiast Pete Reid detailed the history of McKalla Place in a well-researched blog.
Acting Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley said city staff recommended McKalla Place to Precourt Sports Ventures because it checked off a lot of the basic criteria for a possible stadium site.
“It’s accessible by multiple major highways, isn’t in the middle of a neighborhood so it wouldn’t disrupt normal peace and quiet,” McNeeley said. “It’s pretty close to the Domain and has room for on-site parking. So far we haven’t heard a lot of negative feedback on it.”
Some prominent Austin soccer backers said McKalla is probably the best way to go.
Long-time Austinite Lee Nichols wrote on the Violet Crown Soccer Network that McKalla is his favorite site, listing a bevy of reasons, including avoiding a political brawl over parkland, growing entertainment options in the area — including six breweries within walking distance — a location relatively close to the urban core and multiple transportation options.
Austin-based soccer historian Phil West said he thinks McKalla is well-suited to the fans the MLS seeks.
“The 20-somethings and 30-somethings that hang out on Rock Rose are the people that MLS would like to have in the stands,” West said. “Though it’s not downtown, I think it’s a good location to get a broad cross-section of Austinites — including Latinos, families, and folks out in the northern ‘burbs.
West said what he likes best about McKalla is it provides a path of least resistance.
“It would allow PSV to announce the move to Austin now, and it doesn’t bring on what could be a nine-month battle with NIMBYs,” he said. “A vote on Guerrero Park could easily be made a referendum on soccer in Austin, and given Austin’s track record with votes on progress, I’m really wary.”