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City could look to public land for soccer stadium

Monday, October 23, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Beginning next month the city could begin an inventory of available land that would be able to suit a new soccer stadium for a professional team’s proposed relocation to Austin.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo told the Austin Monitor on Sunday she is working with other City Council members to draft a resolution for the Nov. 9 meeting that would ask city staff to complete an inventory of available city-owned parcels, and conduct an analysis of the possible impacts of having a professional soccer team located in Austin. If that resolution passes, the reports would be due in December.

The resolution would be the latest development following the news that the owner of the Columbus Crew soccer team of Columbus, Ohio, intends to relocate the Major League Soccer franchise to Austin for the 2019 season. Such a move would most likely require the team to play its first season or more at the University of Texas’ Mike A. Myers Stadium, which can seat 20,000 and is able to sell alcoholic beverages, a key revenue source for professional sports teams.

Tovo said the property study would be the first of many steps before establishing any land development agreement between the city and team owner Anthony Precourt, with Travis County and the Austin Independent School District needing to be involved as well.

Precourt and his business partners have said a piece of land 10 to 15 acres in size located close to downtown or in the urban core is the best scenario for attracting private investment for a new stadium. The going rate for those facilities is between $100 million and $150 million and Mayor Steve Adler and other Council members have said they would not support public financing for an MLS stadium in Austin.

“Some of the land that we look at may be parkland, and if that’s the case then we need to have a long talk about how it’s used,” Tovo said. “The use of parkland is an important consideration because we want to preserve as much public use as possible. When you talk about having a for-profit business involved, there would have to be extremely high public benefit as well.”

Precourt and his partners said they plan to build two facilities as part of an Austin relocation: a stadium in the urban core and a multi-field training and development facility that could be located further away from Austin, with youth soccer teams and public use of some kind intended as a major component.

After a weekend that saw high-rolling sports enthusiasts from all over the world in Austin for the United States Grand Prix Formula One race at the Circuit of the Americas, Precourt said securing a stadium location as close to downtown as possible is the most important factor in making an Austin move successful. He said the interest on the part of investors seems to hinge on placing the stadium within the city’s urban core.

“Location is a major piece of the puzzle,” Precourt said. “Finding a stadium location in the vibrant urban core is paramount, and that will enable us to private finance because it’s the best situation in terms of attracting investment or lenders. The most important decision we’ll make will be finding a location that allows us to be successful.”

Lance Aldridge, executive director of the Austin Sports Commission, said the recreation land located near the ZACH Theatre on South Lamar Boulevard has become much discussed as a possible site for the stadium.

The Columbus team’s possible move comes as owners of the Austin Aztex are at work building a 5,000-capacity facility at the COTA property that would allow the team to re-enter the United Soccer League in the near future.

Precourt said he’s not yet had discussions with Aztex co-owner Bobby Epstein.

Aldridge said a possible collaboration between the two groups would make sense since the Aztex team’s fate seems up in the air.

“I’m certain (Precourt) is a smart guy and I don’t know if there’s enough soccer interest bandwidth in Austin to support an MLS and USL franchise both going at the same time,” he said. “The MLS is Austin’s only chance at having a pro sports franchise here, and right now the venue location is all that matters.”

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