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After community input, the wait is on for soccer team’s Austin proposal

Monday, May 14, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

After a blitz of community input sessions in recent weeks, representatives of the group looking to move a Major League Soccer franchise to Austin have a firm grasp on what they have to do to meet what they admit is an ambitious late-June deadline for getting a basic agreement with City Council to use city-owned property for a new stadium.

In three public meetings last week and others held with local soccer and community groups from the area near the McKalla Place property eyed for the stadium, attendees offered a mix of feedback on the proposal that would give Austin its first professional sports team, while also communicating that team owners should deliver a robust menu of community benefits beyond paying for construction of the 20,000-seat stadium.

Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of the Columbus Crew team looking to move to Austin, hopes to present an initial proposal to Council members in early June and are pushing for a decision to move forward by the final June Council meeting, ahead of the city’s July recess.

That time frame is needed for the team to negotiate a lease for a temporary venue to use for the 2019 MLS season. It is also expected that a final agreement could come by August or September, with stadium construction beginning soon after and completion expected in time for the start of the 2021 season.

The largest negotiating point appears to be how much the city expects to receive in terms of community benefits from PSV in exchange for use of the 24-acre former industrial site located near the Domain.

“The pieces will be there,” said Dan Barrett, an executive vice president of Creative Artists Agency ICON Strategic Advisory, who is consulting for PSV on the Austin project. “Precourt Sports Ventures have said in these sessions that the group is going to pay for stadium construction 100 percent. That’s usually a significant sticking point between the community and the team, so we’re hopeful we can put together a proposal the city and the community can support.”

Included in the early-June document to Council will be the results of a market survey Barrett completed in 2016 – commissioned by MLS – that studied the viability of Austin as an expansion market. Barrett said the survey drew more than 3,500 responses along with interviews with 35 potential corporate partners and showed high enthusiasm and interest in the community for potential season ticket and individual game sales.

With experience leading stadium and arena projects in San Diego and Sacramento in California and Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, Barrett and fellow CAA ICON Executive Vice President Dan Vaillant said smaller-market expansions and relocations such as Austin typically have a public-private partnership where the public contributes 40 percent of the financing or total resources in a deal.

“In larger markets like LA or New York, less public involvement is required,” Barrett said. “In either situation you need to have some form of a public-private partnership where the public sector and the team is involved to make the project a success. That can vary in terms of public and private investment, but historically it’s been 60 percent private, 40 percent public.”

Both said the Austin relocation strays from a typical MLS project because the league usually prefers to have teams located in a downtown core, but Vaillant said the proposed site can work because of its proximity to the Domain and its selection of restaurants and other attractions.

Council members have expressed a desire to integrate a rail transport stop near the stadium, and that is sure to be part of the coming discussions regarding the infrastructure needed to service the construction and movement of 20,000 fans in and out of the area.

Vaillant said the existing parking resources in the area are sufficient, and are likely to give a boost to retail and hospitality businesses in the area. PSV reps have said they plan to provide up to 1,200 parking spaces at the stadium.

“From our initial studies, including one from a major transportation consultant in the area, there are 10,000 parking spaces within a 20-minute walk of the stadium,” he said. “It’s almost better you don’t try to bring 20,000 people in vehicles to the stadium site because that’s going to clog people up on Braker and Burnet. Instead we’ve ID’d these lots and park-and-ride systems that surround the site and allow people to come early and stay late and disperse in rings to alleviate the traffic problems.”

A study circulated earlier this year by Council Member Alison Alter criticized the economic impact studies around professional sports and stadium projects, particularly that they tend to recirculate existing money in a market rather than bringing in new economic activity.

Barrett said his survey showed a significant number of Austinites travel out of the market to attend MLS games in Houston and the Dallas area. Bringing that disposable income back into Austin along with fans of other Texas clubs involved in regional rivalries will make an impact in the local economy, he said.

“With MLS clubs you have visiting teams coming into the market and their fans coming in to represent new spending,” he said. “And because there’s no professional sports in Austin, there’s a high likelihood people are going to other markets to seek out professional sports events. You may have people going to San Antonio for Spurs games or Houston Dynamo games or FC Dallas.

“There clearly is some substitution effect, which is what people talk about when they say there’s recirculation of spending. We acknowledge that, but we also think there are significant benefits from new spending from businesses that wouldn’t occur without a professional sports franchise.”

Photo by Andre Kiwitz – originally posted to Flickr as olympics-soccer-11, CC BY-SA 2.0

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