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Parks board vote calls for protection, improvement of Guerrero Park

Thursday, March 1, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Public opposition to the possible construction of a soccer stadium in East Austin has turned city leaders’ attention toward finding the funds to improve Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, a resolution asking City Council to remove Guerrero Park from consideration as the site for a proposed 20,000-seat stadium was amended to also ask Council members to “consider additional funding sources including bonds to repair and maintain” the park.

The meeting drew dozens of onlookers and more than 20 speakers – many holding signs reading “Save Roy Guerrero Park.” All but one of the speakers asked the board to pass the resolution that they hope will keep the property green and untouched.

Because the parks board is an advisory body, its action serves as a recommendation to Council, which has no pending action related to the soccer stadium issue.

The potential relocation of a Major League Soccer team from Columbus, Ohio, has spurred interest both for and against the move, with most opposition coming from residents who objected to Guerrero Park and Butler Shores Metropolitan Park ending up on a list of city-owned properties that could be examined as potential stadium sites.

Precourt Sports Ventures, the owner of the Columbus team, backed away from Butler Shores last month and issued a statement on Tuesday that said it will continue to evaluate Austin. The expansive statement touted an estimated $400 million economic impact of a soccer team but made no mention of Guerrero Park, suggesting other parcels including the city-owned McKalla Place property near the Domain are under consideration.

“We are still in the process of identifying the right stadium site in Austin,” it reads, in part. “We recognize some would prefer if this process were to move faster, however we believe that ultimately there is value in being thorough as opposed to being fast. And although we are willing to dedicate significant time and expense in this effort, we are not in a position to move to Austin if the right site is not identified.”

Several speakers on Tuesday night said they support the idea of a professional soccer team coming to Austin and building a large stadium to support it. The objections were instead tied to the possible use of parkland and surrounding properties that lack the infrastructure to support such development.

Council Member Pio Renteria, who had been on record as wanting to see a proposal from Precourt and the possible community benefits PSV would provide under a possible development agreement, said Wednesday he was glad the parks board’s recommendation included a push to find ways to improve Guerrero Park.

“I’ve taken the conversation around MLS as an opportunity to raise awareness around the significant needs at Roy G. Guerrero Park and I’m glad to see this acknowledged in the recommendation,” he told the Austin Monitor via email.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members discussed ways to address the maintenance needs at Guerrero Park, including considering public/private partnerships other than the stadium. Last year it was determined the city’s parks have $700 million in deferred maintenance needs, with Guerrero not included among the five metropolitan parks recommended to receive $10 million worth of work as part of an expected fall bond proposal.

Last week it was announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will contribute $8.5 million to the $13 million cost of replacing a washed-out bridge over Country Club Creek West inside Guerrero Park. The Parks and Recreation Department and Watershed Protection Department will cover the difference on that project.

On Feb. 2, the parks department released a memo stating that staff was holding off on completing a comprehensive review of city properties for a soccer stadium. The memo also says that receipt of a development proposal from Precourt would be followed by a community engagement process that is estimated to take three months.

Other Council members said they had noted the parks board’s decision and are waiting to see a proposal from Precourt before taking any further action on the issue.

“The ball is in Precourt’s court, and there’s no proposal for us to consider,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen, who sponsored a tabled Council resolution that sought to remove city parkland properties from stadium consideration. “It’s up to him to give us a proposal to move forward.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said Wednesday that neither staff nor Council will move ahead on the stadium issue until a development proposal is received, with McKalla Place as the most likely city property that could suit a stadium development.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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