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Council welcomes idea of Major League Soccer

Thursday, November 9, 2017 by Jack Craver

City Council members are intrigued by the prospect of Austin welcoming its first professional sports team, but so far none of them are suggesting the city offer the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer anything but a warm, Texas welcome.

“I don’t see the Council engaging in that decision about whether that team relocates,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo during a Council work session Tuesday.

With a hint of pity, Tovo even noted that she has been “copied on dozens and dozens and dozens of emails every day from supporters in Ohio who want to see their team stay.”

On Thursday, however, Council will vote on a resolution asking city staff to research properties in the city that might work as a site for a future stadium.

The measure, authored by Tovo, directs staff to focus on private properties or parkland in the urban core, generally defined by city planners as the area bound by U.S. Highway 183 to the east and north, MoPac Expressway to the west and State Highway 71 to the south.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who is concerned about the prospect of a playing field near Zilker Park being designated as a potential stadium site, suggested that staff broaden the scope of its search beyond the urban core.

Tovo emphasized that even the “urban core” likely included a substantial area that would not interest the team, which has stated it wants to build a stadium downtown.

Kitchen insisted, however, that Council consider other areas. If not for the Crew, she said, there are other soccer teams that have reached out to her about coming to the Austin area.

“I have heard from other groups that are not as focused on the downtown area,” she said.

Kitchen declined to specify what teams had contacted her when approached by the Austin Monitor and noted that she was not sure whether they were MLS teams or teams from other soccer leagues.

She is not the only one receiving inquiries. Council Member Ora Houston said her office had been contacted by “at least four folks … about Major League Soccer.”

A provision of the resolution directing staff to consider “underutilized parkland” for the site also drew concerns from Council Member Alison Alter. Although converting parkland into a commercial use would require voter approval, the city could offer the team a “ground lease” to develop and use the land for a set period of time – potentially decades. Such a move would not require a referendum.

Mayor Steve Adler stayed out of the debate over where the team should locate, but said, “Bringing a Major League Soccer team would be a pretty exciting opportunity and I do think there will be widespread support.”

Council Member Pio Renteria suggested there might be areas of Southeast Austin that might accommodate a stadium. He highlighted the existing Onion Creek Soccer Complex on William Cannon Drive.

“I think this new soccer team could bring in a lot of people and usage into that area,” he said.

Renteria, who like most of his colleagues does not appear to be an avid soccer fan, noted that he constantly sees kids playing the sport at schools in his district.

“It’s a real popular sport,” he said.

Photo by Christopher Bruno ( [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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