While the legal fútbol is booted around in Ohio with more ferocity than a Gyasi Zardes shot on goal, an intense effort continues in Austin to pave a path for Columbus Crew SC to swap one capital city for another.
The American-Statesman has conducted interviews with city officials and representatives of Precourt Sports Ventures and discovered:
• The investor/operators of the Major League Soccer team plan to have their proposal to the city by June 1 to make city-owned McKalla Place near the Domain the team’s new home. The City Council unanimously approved a March 23 resolution to fully vet the 24-acre North Austin property as a potential stadium site. Anthony Precourt is offering to privately finance a 20,000-seat, $200 million stadium in exchange for use of the land.
• While the Precourt group is still completing its analysis of McKalla, it has gone far enough to declare that “we think it works,” according to PSV President Dave Greeley. PSV representatives have grown more bullish on McKalla during the process.
• Although June is not considered a drop-dead deadline for a deal, PSV officials said that some kind of agreement, such as a letter of intent, needs to be reached with the city by the end of next month. After a June 28 meeting, the City Council takes a summer break until Aug. 9. PSV aims to move the club by the start of 2019.
• MLS will have to inspect and approve the site and any potential agreement with the city, according to PSV officials.
• Austin has devoted 40 people from 14 departments to studying all aspects of McKalla Place, according to Greg Kiloh, redevelopment project manager from the Economic Development Department.
PSV has three teams working on different projects in Austin. The largest group is doing a deep dive into McKalla. A second group is looking into a temporary home for the club while a stadium is being built. A third team is seeking out locations for a separate training facility.
The clock is ticking.
“We’ve got to get the framework of a proposal to the city in the next two or three weeks,” said Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle, who works for PSV. “That allows time for negotiation over any sort of complicated matter.
“I don’t know that we can wrap this up in June, but it’s realistic to think we can have a good idea of whether or not this works by this summer.”
“Clearly this is time sensitive,” Greeley said. “The onus is on us to get a proposal in front of City Council that they can say, ‘You know what? This makes a lot of sense for Austin.’ ”
The timeline is a tight fit from the city’s end, as well.
“It’s very ambitious,” Kiloh said. “I’m pretty much working on it full time. I have other projects I can’t just ignore, but I’m putting all my effort into this for that two-month period, and then I’ve got an army of 40 people supporting me.
“There’s a lot of hours, a lot of staff time going into this to be able to get it done in a short period of time. It’s challenging.”
The 14 city departments working on the project include Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, Austin Water Utility, the Austin Police Department, the Corridor Program Office and Capital Metro.
“They’re subject-matter experts in their particular areas helping us get our arms around some of the questions asked, primarily about what could be done with the site otherwise,” said Kiloh, who also is hiring a consultant to do an economic impact study.
Council members such as Leslie Pool, whose District 7 includes McKalla Place, and Alison Alter have suggested affordable housing might be a better use of the site. Turning it into parkland or creative space also has been floated. Eventually the council will vote on a soccer proposal.
“We’re looking at what this site needs, opportunity costs and transportation impacts,” Kiloh said. “We’re also doing two scenarios. One is more heavily community-benefit oriented; the other involves (determining) the maximum you could put on the site.
“I’m kind of having to play the (request for proposals), developer and evaluator all in one in a very short time frame. We’re trying to put together these alternative scenarios that are realistic, but they’re not designs.”
Both the city and PSV say they are satisfied about the remediation of the former chemical company site. The city spent nearly $5 million on cleanups of toxic materials.
Precourt officials, in their evaluation, see obvious infrastructure issues in the approach to 10414 McKalla Place but no hurdles that cannot be overcome.
“We’ve checked it out physically; we think it works,” Greeley said. “We’re excited about the prospect. This has always come down to site, and we think that’s a viable site.”
PSV officials won’t publicly disclose updates about a temporary stadium search. A deal with the University of Texas makes the most sense. Dell Diamond could be a logical venue in the area. The home of the Round Rock Express has hosted a couple of preseason Liga MX matches. Express CEO Reese Ryan told the Statesman that PSV has not approached him.
The training site/academy could be targeted for East Austin. Suttle said traffic considerations will be a key factor since there will be a lot of shuttling between the stadium and training grounds.
Ultimately, PSV sees a match between MLS and Austin.
“So much needs to be done on both sides, but I’m confident we can come to a successful resolution,” Suttle said. “I can tell you there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. I know we’re on the right track.”