- By Kevin Lyttle American-Statesman Staff
Soccer fans have been waiting months for an update from Anthony Precourt about the status of Columbus Crew SC’s potential move to Austin.
They received some answers Tuesday when Precourt, the owner/operator of the Major League Soccer franchise in Ohio, delivered a bold statement to Austin-area residents, touting benefits that he said could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars if a suitable stadium is built here to house an MLS club.
“With the right site, we can build a world-class, privately financed $200 million soccer park and grounds,” Precourt said in his statement. “As we have said from the onset of this exploratory process, a location in the vibrant urban core where people live, work, and play is of paramount importance. This stadium location is a critical driver to the club’s long-term success.
“Based on our analysis, a public-private partnership of this nature could deliver community benefits in excess of $400 million in the club’s first 25 years, in the form of community investments, park improvements, soccer wellness and programming, wages and construction services, among others.”
The statement represented a major blow to Columbus’ hopes to retain the Crew. Precourt Sports Ventures has made no such financial promises to that city, and PSV officials paint a bleak picture of the franchise’s future in the Ohio capital.
Precourt, in his first public remarks since Oct. 18, said if an MLS club were to play on city-owned parkland in Austin, the community also would benefit from gaining a pro sports identity, along with a significant economic impact.
Austin is the largest city in the United States without a major-league franchise.
In the 4½ months since PSV set its sights on Austin, the group has suffered setbacks, such as losing its most-desired site, Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, to push-back from neighborhood groups, activists and some city council members.
The consideration of Roy G. Guerrero Metropolitan Park as a possible stadium site also has ignited opposition. At an Austin Parks and Recreation Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, the board was expected to recommend to the Austin City Council that the Southeast Austin park be eliminated as a potential site for the 20,000-seat stadium that PSV seeks to build.
Five parkland sites were among the eight city staff put on a list to be considered for a stadium, a training facility or both. Precourt said his group continues to study a variety of sites, both city-owned ones and private parcels.
The slow-moving nature of the search has frustrated many fans.
“We are still in the process of identifying the right stadium site in Austin,” Precourt said in his statement. “We recognize some would prefer if this process were to move faster; however, we believe that ultimately there is value in being thorough as opposed to being fast.
“We are not in a position to move to Austin if the right site is not identified.”
Precourt expressed regret about his team’s extensive review of Butler Shores only not to have a full hearing regarding their plan.
“We started the process in earnest with Butler Shores because we were given early indications from city leaders that it is a viable, under-utilized site,” he said.
Precourt also mentioned other steps PSV has taken, such as hiring firms to provide financial and legal counsel or develop architectural or design plans.
Precourt concluded his statement by saying he wishes that the proposed shift of the Crew to Austin becomes an all-inclusive debate.
“We are hopeful that, if the best site is either parkland or city-owned land, the will of the people, across a spectrum of perspectives and districts, would be heard,” he wrote.