In an interview with Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated for the Planet Futbol podcast, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber made his most illuminating remarks yet about the Columbus Crew’s potential move to Austin.
In response to a question about the reported “Austin clause” in the contract when franchise owner Anthony Precourt bought the team from Hunt Sports Group in 2013, Garber provided new details about how that clause came to be.
“All teams have the opportunity, in all leagues, to come to the league and say, ‘I can’t succeed. I need some help. Are there options for me in another market?’ ” Garber said. “In his case, when (Precourt) said that upon purchase, we said, ‘We’ll agree all teams have that with league approval, but we’re going to limit you to only one market.’ That one market was Austin, and that was because we had no expansion activity going on at that time.
“A lot has happened since then. That was five years ago. Things change. Times change. I don’t know how this ultimately gets resolved, but I will tell you that we are as focused on keeping the team there as Anthony (Precourt) is working to try to see if there are any other alternatives.”
Garber was also asked about what it would take to keep the Crew in Columbus.
“We all know that having a different stadium situation is No. 1, having more corporate support is No. 2, having a larger fan base — more folks that really care about the team to make it relevant,” he said.
“I just saw an article in The New York Times about great urban stadiums that have been built in our country and what that’s doing to drive economic opportunity. What do they talk about? The new Nationwide Arena built (in 2000) for the hockey team in Columbus with public funds, in addition to a local baseball stadium (Huntington Park, built in 2009) that was built with local funds. We have not been able to get the public — the powers that be, if you will — to understand that we will not be able to succeed long term out in the fairgrounds.”
Nationwide Arena was constructed with private funds after voters rejected a sales tax proposal in 1997. In 2012, the city and county bought the arena in a $45.2 million deal that kept the Blue Jackets from leaving the city. Huntington Park, the minor league baseball home of the Columbus Clippers, was financed by Franklin County and paid off without using tax dollars.
Since 1999, the Crew have played their home games at Columbus Crew Stadium — renamed MAPFRE Stadium in 2015 — on land owned by the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair. Hunt Sports Group funded the building of the stadium for $28.5 million. Owner Lamar Hunt died in 2006, leaving the team to his sons Clark and Dan Hunt.
Precourt Sports Ventures announced in October that it is exploring moving the franchise to Austin. The group released renderings for a stadium at Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, but on Wednesday, Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen drafted a resolution that would strike public parkland from the discussion of a stadium solution.
PSV has said it will privately fund a 20,000-seat, $200 million stadium if it finds the right site. Meanwhile, Columbus officials have refused to enter discussions about a new stadium site as long as PSV keeps exploring Austin.
Alter weighs in
Council Member Alison Alter weighed in on the parkland debate Wednesday evening in an interview with KVUE. The District 10 representative was a co-sponsor for Ann Kitchen’s proposal to eliminate parkland — including Butler Shores and Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park — from the discussion.
“Our parkland is not the right location,” Alter said. “I have said that from the very beginning.”
Alter would like to see the McKalla Place site, near the Domain, explored.
“How amazing would it be if that stadium could be an anchor over in that area, which does have access to the bars in walking distance and other kinds of things, is not on parkland, is in an area that’s accessible with respect to traffic?” she said.