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Pool wants Council to see all proposals for possible soccer stadium site

Friday, June 8, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

City Council Member Leslie Pool is planning to open a request for proposal process for the city-owned property at McKalla Place, a move that could have significant impact on a push by owners of a Major League Soccer franchise to build a stadium on the 24-acre site in North Austin.

Pool, whose District 7 includes the property, said she has a co-sponsor for the resolution she wants to be included on the agenda for Council’s June 28 meeting. That is a pivotal date because Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of the Columbus Crew SC soccer team, have said they need to have an agreement or letter of understanding with the city on a stadium deal prior to Council’s July recess so they can begin the many other negotiations and agreements needed to move the team to Austin in 2019.

Pool told the Austin Monitor her decision was spurred by several factors, including the recent discovery that as of mid-2016 city staff members, including former city manager Marc Ott, were conducting feasibility studies to possibly use McKalla Place as a site for development heavy with affordable housing. An RFP related to that effort was even created but never released, as Ott’s departure from the city in late 2016 caused the project to lose momentum.

A recent presentation to the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association by two teams interested in developing the property has also sparked interest in nearby residents, while proponents of the stadium argue the site has been vacant for decades and would prosper with the construction and green space.

Pool said her review of PSV’s recently released proposal for the site has raised concerns about its viability and the amount of responsibility the city could undertake. Her primary concerns include Precourt’s planned donation of the $200 million stadium to the city while leasing the property from the city at $1 per year – a move that would absolve the team of property tax payments – and the city’s possible share in infrastructure costs that are projected to exceed $10 million.

“I’ve been reviewing it and it does not pencil out,” she said. “It’s looking like a massive giveaway. The taxpayers are on the hook for so much, and $1 for the ground lease is embarrassing.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s time (to bargain) to me. (PSV lobbyist Richard Suttle) has said he wants an agreement on the 28th, and there has been maneuvering behind the scenes that appears to have gone on without letting me know, even though that’s my district. I don’t know what they expect out of that. It doesn’t look like there’s any benefit coming back to the city. If this is the route we’re taking, I would need to be at the negotiating table for my constituents and fashion the best deal possible. As it is now, elements of it are truly embarrassing.”

The city’s previous assessment of McKalla Place appears to be tied to the 2015 acquisition of a neighboring 3-acre parcel by Capella Capital Partners, an Austin-based real estate development firm that presented an updated plan for the site on Tuesday.

Its plan for a mixed-use development includes 800,000 square feet of office space, 120,000 square feet of retail, 1,500 residential units with approximately 25 percent set at affordable rates, flex space for local creatives, 6 acres of park space and a relocated rail line improving mass transit access.

The second project is a partnership with real estate investment firm The Whitfield Company and Austin-area homebuilder John Chen. It is described as a residential mixed-use project featuring affordable housing, retail, live/work spaces for local artists, office space and parkland.

PSV president Dave Greeley told the Monitor that his group is willing to have the stadium proposal judged against other proposed development projects, but he said getting an agreement in place this summer is the only way the team can pull off its relocation from Columbus to Austin by 2019. If approved, the stadium is projected to be open in 2021.

Francoise Luca, president of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association, said the group voted on Tuesday to ask Council to hold a full RFP process for the property.

“If we have a fair and open request for proposals with a competitive and open bidding process then we would really get a stellar project in that land,” she said. “I am very disappointed that it’s taken so long to even talk about this site since I’ve had developers contacting me since 2012 looking to develop it. I believe this is city-owned land and it takes greater care and thought. We have to be fair and open with city business and I don’t think that’s happening right now.”

Photo by Andy Witchger made available through a Creative Commons license.

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