Thursday, July 26, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

IndyAustin targets stadium proposal, suggests petition for referendum

The local political action committee that helped to force an upcoming public vote on the implementation of CodeNEXT has set its sights on the city’s McKalla Place property and the push to build a professional soccer stadium there.

IndyAustin is in the very early stages of a possible petition drive to bring about a vote on any agreement City Council reaches with Precourt Sports Ventures, the owners of the Columbus Crew soccer team, to construct a 20,000-seat stadium that would become the team’s new home as early as 2021. In an announcement on its website the group lists a public vote as one of the political options for opponents of the proposed deal, with recall campaigns and support for opponents of incumbent Council members as two of the other options.

City staff are currently negotiating a possible deal on the 24-acre parcel with PSV and Council is expected to vote on the deal at its Aug. 9 meeting. IndyAustin’s announcement says the negotiation has been rushed and Council members are likely to secure a less attractive deal than what would happen in a more traditional bargaining scenario to bring a pro sports team to the city.

“Soccer is a fine sport and can be a unifier when its purpose is honest and clear,” the announcement reads in part. “Our read is that it is more likely a straight up rip-off of Austin to the tune of tens of millions of public dollars. Because it’s being rushed so fast, we may not know just how bad it is before Council passes it as early as August 9th. This is why calling for a public vote on the soccer stadium is so very important.”

Linda Curtis, one of the lead organizers for the group, said those who object to the stadium proposal are invited to participate in discussions on possible petition language and other actions, with a large event expected in the near future.

Neighbors around the North Austin property have expressed concern over traffic issues, the loss of more traditional commercial and residential development that could happen at the site, and the deal points of the proposal PSV submitted to the city on June 1.

The key parts of that proposal would see PSV pay for the roughly $200 million stadium, which would then be given to the city in exchange for a $1-per-year lease that would see the group pay no property taxes.

Several members of Council said before a June 28 vote to begin negotiations that the PSV proposal was not acceptable, and that there would need to be significantly more community benefits included in a final agreement.

Mark Littlefield, a lobbyist representing PSV in Austin, said 10 months of discussion and 11 public input sessions have given residents and Council members plenty of time to participate in and weigh in on the possible deal.

“They’re claiming this is a rushed process, but there has been 10 months of dialogue, and Council has already voted four times in some way to move forward in favor of soccer,” he said. “There are forces in and around Austin that would love to prevent this from happening, and now IndyAustin is playing their role. I think this will be over by August 9 when there will be affirmative, or negative, action taken by Council.”

Bill Aleshire, a local attorney who has threatened to sue the city if it approves a deal with Precourt, said opposition is growing to the possible stadium.

“The pressure to have a referendum on something comes when people think the process Council is using sucks,” he said. “The idea of giving away a $29 million asset of Austin Water is a disappointment, but I’ve learned to not lobby this City Council because they mystify me – even though there’s a minority who are watching out for the people who live here in Austin.”

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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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