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Commissions weigh use of parkland for stadium

Thursday, March 15, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

In the face of a lawsuit brought against it by the Ohio attorney general and the city of Columbus to prevent it from relocating to Austin, Precourt Sports Ventures, the owner of the Columbus Crew SC Major League Soccer team, continues to search for the perfect piece of land on which to build a privately funded stadium.

Both the Parks and Recreation Board and the Environmental Commission made it clear that Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park was an unwelcome suggestion as a candidate for the proposed soccer stadium.

After the March 7 meeting of the Environmental Commission where the commissioners unequivocally voted to recommend the removal of Guerrero Park from the short list of potential sites, city leaders seemed to get the memo.

Several days after the recommendation was sent to City Council, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo announced her co-sponsorship of a resolution that will direct city staff to produce an analysis of the McKalla Place property, the parcel of city-owned land under consideration for the stadium, to determine if the land would be able to handle a proposed 20,000-seat stadium.

The McKalla Place property is left as a choice for city land after public outcry led Precourt to divert its plans to build a soccer stadium on either Butler Shores Metropolitan Park or Guerrero Park.

At the Environmental Commission, commissioners and the public voiced not only their opposition to using Guerrero Park as the soccer stadium site but their disapproval at locating the soccer stadium on any city-owned parkland.

“We shouldn’t be horse-trading parkland,” said Commissioner Wendy Gordon in reference to the potential community benefits and youth programs that the MLS team would bring along with the construction of the stadium.

Roy Waley, the conservation chair for the Austin Sierra Club, commented that if they were going to “horse trade,” Austin was on the losing side. The soccer team has a 34-game season, with 17 of those games to be played on home turf, he said, meaning the stadium would be an underused space, at the expense of well-used parkland.

He noted that the city would feel the loss of public green space and that it would be difficult to regain it. “You know how expensive it is to buy more parkland,” he said. “If you do this, how will you ever pass another parks bond in Austin?”

David King, a member of the Zoning and Platting Commission, explained that he found it difficult to swallow Precourt’s demands for space on city-owned land because “we don’t have enough parkland in our urban core.” He noted that he struggled with PSV’s approach to the process as well. “They came with demands and tried to use our system to bypass public process and get what they want. I find that disrespectful,” he said.

Several of the commissioners felt that because city parkland was purchased with taxpayer dollars, it should not be up for sale. Instead, according to Commissioner Pam Thompson, it should be a place where members of a neighborhood can gather and celebrate their common bonds. Parks, she said, are the last places where communities can gather without having to worry about economic constraints on their presence. “We need to preserve places where culture can be remembered if we cannot preserve it in any other way,” she said.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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