Statesman Exclusive: Precourt breaks silence on Austin MLS move


Highlights

Columbus Crew SC owner says he wants to add local investors to his effort to shift club to Austin.

A move here depends on securing a top-tier stadium site, Precourt says.

Group says it plans ‘to be more cautious’ about considering parkland for a stadium site.

The owner of Columbus Crew SC said this week he’s still determined to move his Major League Soccer club to Austin, but only if an ideal stadium site is found that he said could be the catalyst for economic success for the club.

Anthony Precourt, in his first interview in 4½ months, discussed with the American-Statesman everything from potential stadium sites to what happens if Austin isn’t the answer. Among the highlights of the interview, which included Precourt Sports Ventures President Dave Greeley:

• Precourt said he is seeking local investors. These minority owners would help develop a better community bond and boost cash flow, he said.

• Greeley said 37 Austin-area companies have been identified for possible corporate partnerships, although the team has not begun negotiations with them.

• The Crew owner said a hesitancy to seek city-owned parkland has developed within his group, but Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park in Southeast Austin is still being considered as a site for a stadium or practice facility.

• McKalla Place, a city-owned, non-parkland tract near the Domain in North Austin, is considered promising, Precourt said, and efforts are underway to scout private properties within the urban core. He would not disclose privately owned potential sites.

• Precourt would not provide a full breakdown of the eyebrow-raising potential $400 million package of community benefits of the team’s relocation that he had touted in a statement Tuesday, saying it was not ready to be publicly evaluated. Precourt, addressing skepticism about the $400 million total, said that the extent of the benefits the team would provide would depend on the quality of the stadium site.

In its statement Tuesday, Precourt Sports Ventures said a “public-private partnership” could deliver benefits in the form of community investments, park improvements, wages and construction services. Over 25 years, this amount could exceed $400 million, according to the statement.

“It will vary from place to place,” Precourt said. “There is a real analysis behind that. We have a spreadsheet that breaks it down and line-itemizes it. We’ll be able to provide detail in the coming days and will welcome the city to independently verify it.”

Greeley outlined some broad generalizations regarding the promised community benefits: $50 million in youth soccer investment and wellness programming; $45 million to $50 million in donations to local charities and youth organizations; $40 million for construction contracts; and above $200 million in club employment wages, job training and internships. He declined to detail how PSV arrived at those dollar figures.

Mayor Steve Adler remains optimistic that Austin will land the Crew.

“I think soccer would be very important for our community because it would bring our city together,” he said Thursday. “Putting this in a park is a heavy lift. But my sense is that we are going to find a place that works for everybody.”

RELATED: Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt remains committed to Austin move

Precourt, who has offered to privately finance a 20,000-seat, $200 million stadium, stressed the importance of not settling for a subpar facility.

“We need an economic model that works,” he said. “We’re trying to do something we think can be pretty special for Austin. But I can’t guarantee we’re going to move here unless we find the right site. This is not an ‘at-all-costs’ (situation).

“Our bar is very high as it relates to the site. That’s everything. Our league will not allow us to move unless we have a site that’s going to set us up for success.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber must sign off on any Austin stadium location.

“Our stadium site in Columbus and the revenue model associated with it didn’t provide a sustainable situation for us,” Precourt said. “We need to be in a vibrant part of town.”

Does McKalla Place, approximately 11 miles north of the city center, qualify?

“It’s midtown. It’s the new downtown,” he said. “The Domain is compelling. There’s some frontage issues. There’s some environmental remediation we need to get our arms around. But being on the Cap Metro line makes it extremely attractive to us. We’re evaluating it.”

PSV officials thought they had found their ideal location at Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, with its waterfront setting and views of the downtown skyline. They said they poured time and money into studying the location, just west of Lamar Boulevard and south of Lady Bird Lake, but ultimately succumbed to protests from neighborhood groups and City Council members.

Precourt lamented the loss of Butler Shores as a possible site and said he’s also concerned about growing pressure to remove Guerrero Park from the dwindling list of city-identified sites. In a nonbinding vote, the Austin Parks and Recreation board voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend to the City Council that Guerrero be made off-limits.

“We understand how sacred public parkland is in this city, and we heard you all loud and clear,” Precourt said, speaking of parkland advocates. “We’re going to be more cautious as it relates to parkland. We’re evaluating more private opportunities and maybe city-owned land that’s not parkland.”

“I dread the idea of giving away Guerrero or any of our parkland for corporate profit,” said Jeff Jack, president of Austin Neighborhoods Council. “Keep our green space. We need to have our lungs supported, not snuffed out.”

Precourt also said there are potential issues at Guerrero — flood plains, sandy soil and access to the area, along with the timing of a November election that probably would be needed to approve use of the site by a private entity. PSV aims to move the team here in January.

Precourt said his group has identified local investors to partner with him and has bank relationships to help finance a stadium. Greeley said there are “37 companies with deep Central Texas roots that we think would be ideal partners for things like jersey sponsorship and stadium naming rights.”

Greeley would not give details on which companies have been contacted.

Both men said the financial model will not come together until investors, banks and local companies see a stadium plan.

Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein, a strong soccer advocate who announced he is starting up a second division USL franchise next year, will not be involved.

“I have no interest in a minority position with that team,” he said.

Precourt was asked what would happen if a suitable stadium site weren’t found. Would he consider moving to another city such as Sacramento, Calif., which is among the league’s top expansion candidates?

“This conversation is about Austin,” he said. “There are 11 markets that are participating in this round of expansion, and there is strong demand from other markets for an MLS team. But our focus has been on trying to bring MLS to Austin.”

Precourt said he remains bullish on Austin.

“We came out in October a week before our playoffs started and announced we were committed to exploring Austin. I think that says it all,” he said. “We put it out on the line, and we’ve taken a lot of heat for this.

“Austin scores extremely high across any survey or metric. This is a very robust economy. We have a sense of confidence that the business community and fan base would embrace the team.”



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