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Survey finds soccer stadium concerns; alternative development proposals on tap

Friday, June 1, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

With City Council members set to receive a proposal for constructing a 20,000-seat soccer stadium on a parcel of city-owned land in North Austin, a new survey shows Austin residents have mixed support for any agreement that would let owners of a professional sports franchise utilize the land for its own benefit.

The Strategic Research Associates survey, performed by Joshua Blank of the Texas Politics Project, was commissioned by former Travis County Auditor Susan Spataro, who has expressed concern over the way the city and Precourt Sports Ventures – owners of the Columbus Crew soccer club that is attempting to move to Austin – have engaged in negotiations over the McKalla Place property near the Domain.

The mid-May online survey of 600 likely Austin voters carries a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The survey found that:

  • A plurality of voters (43 percent) think that Crew ownership should buy private land to build a stadium, with only 19 percent saying that the Austin City Council should sell public land to Crew ownership.
  • 83 percent of Austin voters believe that the City Council, if it is to sell or lease land to Crew ownership, should do so at fair market value.
  • 87 percent of Austin voters say that Crew ownership should have to pay property taxes (if the city sells or leases the land to the team for below market value).
  • 84 percent of Austin voters say that the City of Austin should receive at least some of the revenue from events held at the stadium (if the city sells or leases the land to the team for below market value).
  • 83 percent say that Crew ownership should pay for changes to local infrastructure, including rerouting local roads and the relocation of a Capital MetroRail station.
  • 93 percent of Austin voters say that the stadium should provide enough parking for events.

The survey findings and other public input in the weeks ahead could play into the city’s decision on how to proceed with the courtship of what would be Austin’s first professional sports franchise. PSV representatives are pushing to have an agreement complete before the Council’s July recess so that it can negotiate a temporary facility to accommodate the team in time to play the 2019 season in Austin.

Spataro said that rush has removed any chance for competitive proposals to be considered for the property, which had been identified previously as a possible location for affordable housing units.

“I went to the public outreach meetings recently, and it was a PR pitch for Precourt and the hard questions were not answered,” she said. “Were they going to pay taxes? Are they going to pay market value for the land? Those questions were not answered at all, but they must be.

“This is public land that belongs to the people of Austin, so you have to treat it differently than if it were your own. If you are going to get rid of it through lease or sale, it ought to be an open and competitive process. This one wasn’t. I’m not sure there aren’t other businesses that wouldn’t say, ‘We wouldn’t mind bidding on that land, particularly if we’re going to be given any kind of break.’”

In an interview with the Austin Monitor, Spataro disclosed that she performs property tax consulting work for Circuit of the Americas, which is set to be the home site for a United Soccer League team in 2019 and would compete for the dollars of soccer fans if a Major League Soccer franchise also moved to Austin.

Spataro’s poll did find a majority of the respondents (55 percent) have a favorable view overall of the idea of Austin having a professional soccer team, similar to the results of a survey released in December by PSV.

Richard Suttle, the Austin lobbyist representing PSV, said he hadn’t seen the survey Spataro commissioned and thus couldn’t comment on it, adding that developments that add population density and everyday traffic to the area around the proposed stadium site could have a greater impact on surrounding neighborhoods than that caused by soccer fans visiting the area for games.

“I’ve heard rumors about other development proposals but not seen anything at this point,” he said. “I do know that any development that’s not a stadium or a park will require lots of off-site infrastructure and will add further to the traffic issues in the area.”

The poll results come as a pair of alternative development proposals for the McKalla Place property will get their public debut next week.

The mixed-use proposals – from Capella Capital Partners and an undisclosed development group that will be represented by the Husch Blackwell law firm – will be presented at the monthly meeting of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association on Tuesday. Representatives from the office of District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool are planning to attend the meeting, though it is unknown if either team will be invited to have further discussions with city officials afterward.

Francoise Luca, president of the association, said she and many of her neighbors are concerned about the pace of the stadium discussions and would like the city to take more control in the negotiations of the 24-acre parcel.

“The frustration in the community is there has been no process,” she said. “The normal development process starts with a design concept or a request for a proposal to fill a need we have as a community. There hasn’t been that for the McKalla site. It’s been the opposite. The developer or the team in this case has a need and so they’re telling us how we’re going to fulfill their need.

“It’s been totally backwards. There hasn’t been an RFP, and the development community is as frustrated as the public as far as knowing what closed-door meetings are happening to make this go on. It should be an embarrassment to our city officials because they are the ones who should be in the lead role of managing these conversations and the process.”

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This story has been changed since publication to clarify that the survey was conducted by Strategic Research Associates. U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong.

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