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Austin City Council Delays Vote On Columbus Crew Stadium Proposal

Gensler/Precourt Sports Ventures

The Austin City Council has put off until next week a vote on a stadium proposal that could trigger the Columbus Crew to move to Texas as early as the 2019 season.

According to the Associated Press, the council met for several hours on Thursday night to vote on a stadium plan proposed by Crew owner Anthony Precourt. The proposal was strongly supported by Mayor Steve Adler, but it faced tough resistance from some council members who question whether the land could be better used for affordable housing or parks in Texas' booming capital city.

"We don't have very many events in this city that bring everybody together, that bring people of every walk of like together," Adler said. "That's a huge thing, a huge value for a city in desperate need of something like this. Not everything has to solve all of our problems."

Adler said he thought the plan had the votes to pass, but agreed to delay action until August 15 after several council members said they wanted more time to review a flurry of late-filed amendments.

Richard Suttle, Precourt's lobbyist before the council, has said any delay makes it more difficult to move in time for the 2019 season. Suttle said he's optimistic the votes are lining up to support the plan, despite the delay.

"We have to tell the league the city is making some tweaks to the term sheet," Suttle said. "But it appears there's a majority support vote to bring MLS to Austin."

Several council members were frustrated that the plan spends $36 million on a boys' development academy, which Suttle said is required by MLS, but doesn't list a similar commitment or expense for girls. Suttle said Precourt has a written agreement with a local soccer organization to boost girls' soccer, but refused to disclose the details of what he called a private contract.

"It's appropriate to ask how women and girls benefit," said council member Ann Kitchen. "It disturbs me that I'm told we can't know."

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Under a plan released by the city in July, a new stadium at McKalla Place would cost $200 million and boast 20,000 seats. Precourt Sports Ventures, which owns the team, would finance and construct the stadium and then give it back to the city. The team would then lease the stadium, paying no rent for the first six years.

Austin Council is scheduled to hear public testimony, and consideration of the proposal is expected to go late into the night and possibly into Friday.

Crew owner Anthony Precourt has been pushing to move his team to Austin for months. In October 2017, he announcedthat he would move the team in 2019 unless a new stadium was built in downtown Columbus. The Crew has played in Columbus since 1996, when Major League Soccer began.

If Austin Council approves the stadium plan, the Crew is likely to become the third MLS team in Texas by 2019, with other teams planned for Dallas and Houston.

Austin is the largest American city without a major professional sports franchise. Before Precourt announced the potential move, MLS trademarked Austin Athletic and Austin FC as possible names for a team. 

Austin City Council passed a measure in late June directing the city to begin talks with Precourt Sports Ventures about the stadium, as well as a resolution to consider alternative development plans for McKalla Place.

In aletter to Austin City Council, Precourt says the proposal eliminates risk and upfront cost for Austin.

“The proposal virtually eliminates risk for the City and provides a positive financial return to the City’s general fund, while simultaneously addressing many of the issues and concerns that have been expressed throughout the process,” Precourt said in a letter dated August 9.

After a request from the council, Precourt Sports Ventures added130 affordable housing units to its stadium plans, along with eight acres of public space and a possible MetroRail station.

“To date, we have witnessed four positive Council votes, participated in a dozen community engagement meetings, and completed countless market research initiatives including political polls and surveys that overwhelmingly reinforce that the vast majority of Austin want MLS and this private investment in their community," he continued.

Some city council members have questioned whether a Major League Soccer stadium is the best use of the land. Council members did not respond to requests to interview.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.