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Council approves study of McKalla Place as soccer stadium site

Monday, March 26, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

City staff will spend the next two months studying if a city-owned parcel near the Domain could be a possible fit for a proposed professional soccer stadium.

At Thursday’s meeting City Council members voted 9-0 to have the city manager and staff conduct an analysis of the McKalla Place property in North Austin to determine if and how that site could be used to build a privately funded 20,000-seat stadium that would become the home of a Major League Soccer franchise seeking to relocate to Austin from Columbus, Ohio.

Council members Leslie Pool and Ellen Troxclair were not present for the vote.

The resolution is the most significant move forward on the part of the city since November when Precourt Sports Ventures, the ownership group of the Columbus Crew SC, began exploring options to relocate the team to Austin.

An initial list of possible city property that could be made available to PSV was quickly trimmed, especially after residents objected to two parks – Butler Shores Metropolitan Park and Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park – coming under consideration.

That left McKalla Place as the most likely city-owned land under consideration, though it is also possible PSV could pursue an agreement with a private landowner.

The final resolution added several action steps recommended by Pool, whose district includes the property in question, and gives June 1 as the due date for the analysis. Items added to the resolution include requests for:

  • Analysis of direct and indirect benefits of the stadium for Austin residents, as well as opportunity costs, such as losing the property as a possible site for affordable housing
  • Determination of how many Austin residents travel to other cities to view professional soccer games
  • Examination of the scope of infrastructure improvements needed, and the public safety costs involved, to properly service the stadium

Those components were added to the original language that asked for an economic impact analysis, a traffic impact analysis and an outline of a public engagement process to be conducted prior to finalizing any agreement with PSV.

While Pool was absent from Thursday’s meeting, she posted in the City Council Message Board that she is worried a June 1 deadline for several detailed studies could impact the quality of the data and the decisions made based on those findings.

“I have several concerns with the timeline that has been presented to us by Precourt Sports Ventures – having our staff return as quickly as June with this full feasibility analysis along with a truly inclusive and complete community engagement process may lead to not having the full picture on either score,” she wrote.

“We should be prepared to give this process more time if needed,” she continued. “I am pleased that we are moving away from considering any dedicated parkland for a private stadium; but McKalla Place is also city-owned and of extremely high value for any private developer. … We need a realistic evaluation of the economic benefits and challenges that such a sports stadium presents, and to make certain that there are significant and meaningful community benefits.”

Representatives from PSV have said a decision of some kind by Council is needed before July so the group can know if it could be able to play its 2019 season in Austin. That certainty would let PSV move forward with securing the University of Texas’ Mike A. Myers Stadium and Soccer Field as a temporary home, as well as putting together a complete proposal to use the city property to construct the permanent stadium.

In a statement released after the vote, PSV lobbyist Richard Suttle said the group wants to build momentum for what would be Austin’s first professional sports team.

“Precourt Sports Ventures is appreciative and excited about the support from all around Austin and from City Council,” he said. “Now it is time to get to work on all the details that need to be analyzed and studied to bring this stadium site to life.”

Earlier in the month, PSV released an outline of the hundreds of millions of dollars in potential economic benefits for the city associated with the MLS team moving here.

Council members spent some time discussing the framework of youth leagues and other partnerships that could develop over time, but Council Member Alison Alter also referenced a letter from Roger Noll, a sports economics professor at Stanford University, that said much of the construction and employment activity associated with the stadium would be replacement-level spending rather than adding to what is already happening the Austin economy.

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