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Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Council plays with ideas for soccer stadium

District 7 City Council Member Leslie Pool on Tuesday continued to try to convince her colleagues that they should not play ball with Precourt Sports Ventures, the folks who want to bring a Major League Soccer stadium to Austin.

But most of her colleagues seem to be ready to give the Columbus Crew SC a chance – if they can get the right answers to their questions about the economic impact of giving such a team the city’s property at 10414 McKalla Place.

Only District 10 Council Member Alison Alter seemed to side with Pool, telling city staff that she wanted “a real analysis of their actual proposal.”

But several members of Council indicated during Tuesday’s work session that they might want more concessions from the team.

Precourt has proposed that the team privately fund construction of the stadium at a cost of approximately $200 million, saying that such a venture would bring the city more than $326 million in direct value over the next 25 years.

The group has promised to work with Workers Defense Project on stadium construction, to use local companies for goods and services, including women- and minority-owned businesses, and to use services from Austin-based subcontractors.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she continues to be “very optimistic,” about bringing the team from Columbus, Ohio, to Austin, but noted that “we should treat this as we do other incentive packages.”

That means Tovo wants a better deal from Precourt Sports Ventures. Although the company has promised to comply with a certain level of Green Building, Tovo said she wants more – a four-star level of Green Building.

Tovo said she was troubled by Precourt’s proposal that would have the city pick up all utility costs, including electricity, water and trash pickup. She said her constituents have indicated to her that they want the team to pay for those items, just as they want the team to pay for traffic control and police services.

In addition, Tovo said she would like to see significantly more public use of the stadium than was presented in the original proposal. She said she hoped that construction of the facility would set the standard for hiring local contractors and using local materials.

Precourt will be doing branding and advertising of their Austin club, and Tovo said she would like the city to have final approval of such advertising.

The city hired B&D Venues, a part of Brailsford & Dunlavey focusing on planning and development of sports facilities, to advise Council on the benefits and drawbacks of allowing Precourt to build and operate a stadium on the North Austin property.

B&D recommends that in order to eliminate the risks associated with cost overruns in developing the site, the city should require a clear list of utility and infrastructure design specifications. In addition, the group recommends that the city establish a clear quality standard for the facility, and that the city look at “other MLS stadia representing the desired quality of architecture and construction.”

The team is currently trying to get out of an agreement with Columbus, and according to the consultant, Austin should make sure that its agreement with Precourt includes a provision requiring the team to repay the city the cost of development of the property and/or the cost of demolition of the stadium and clearing the site for another use if it fails to fulfill the contract for the full 25 years.

Council Member Ann Kitchen said she appreciated those suggestions but wanted to know how Council could think about the value of the property if it were used in a different way. That is perhaps the most difficult question because, for example, value can mean economic value, in which case the highest value might be a very dense group of office buildings, the consultant noted. There might not ever be a satisfactory answer to that question.

In its analysis, B&D compares the cost of building 11 different stadiums, including public and private contributions. For example, the projected cost for building Allianz Field in Minneapolis is $218 million, of which the primary contribution is $200 million and the public contribution is $18 million.

That stadium, along with the Audi Field being built in Washington, D.C., is expected to be completed in 2019. Audi Field is projected to cost $400 million, with a private contribution of $250 million and $150 million in public funding.

In Los Angeles, the Banc of California Stadium cost $350 million, all of which is being paid for through private contributions, B&D reports. There are another eight examples going back to 2007 when Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was built in Denver with a private contribution of just $21 million and a public contribution of $162 million.

On average, according to the B&D analysis, the public share of stadium costs is around 35 percent and the private share about 65 percent.

During B&D’s presentation of the report to Council, Pool questioned whether the group was biased in favor of cities building stadiums, and B&D President Chris Dunlavey told her that was not the case. However, he told her that his firm works for municipalities, not athletic clubs, and that his general advice to cities does not favor stadiums.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said that while the city has other properties that would be suitable for affordable housing, this might be the only one suitable for a soccer stadium.

An advocate of affordable housing, Tovo said she agreed with Flannigan’s statement about the many choices the city might have for affordable housing and the fact that the city does not have other properties that would be great for a soccer stadium. “So that’s why I’m supporting this site for stadium use,” she said, “if there is an appropriate agreement and contract.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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