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Amendments push Council decision on soccer stadium into overtime

Friday, August 10, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

City Council’s expected decision on a soccer stadium deal at McKalla Place was delayed Thursday, with the 11 members agreeing to make a final vote by noon at a special meeting on Wednesday.

The delay was caused in large part because of an assortment of 24 amendments submitted by six Council members – Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Leslie Pool, Alison Alter, Ellen Troxclair, Greg Casar and Delia Garza – in the 24 hours preceding Thursday’s meeting, with many of them crafted on the dais and distributed during the course of the meeting.

The amendments addressed issues such as the rent paid by the owners of the professional soccer team, a cap on the city’s costs for environmental remediation, discounted ticketing programs, and the funds team ownership would be required to pay toward Austin’s transportation programs.

Together they drastically altered the city’s most recent term sheet with Precourt Sports Ventures, which itself was updated on Wednesday night to include strengthened legal language and stipulations such as a relocation penalty of $1 million per year for every year remaining on the lease.

The amendments piled up in between Council discussion on PSV’s financial support of youth soccer programs, specifically the amounts it would contribute to separate programs for girls and boys. Mayor Steve Adler suggested some Council members were attempting to derail the stadium deal without taking a vote by making the terms of the agreement unrealistic financially.

“Some of the things proposed clearly to me are poison pills, and when you look at them, you know they make the deal die,” he said. “Some of them are clearly intended to not get this to pass. If we’re going to vote it down, we should just vote it down.”

Later in the meeting Adler said he believed there was enough support from Council to get the votes to move forward with the resolution without the amendments.

Responding to Adler’s “poison pill” charge, Pool said she and others are trying to protect the city and residents from unexpected liabilities related to the stadium, which would be located in her district near the Domain.

“I don’t appreciate characterizing any of my colleagues’ or my amendments as poison pills,” she said. “I think that’s disrespectful to the process. The amendments that have been offered are trying to get answers to concerns that have been raised throughout the public comment period and what people have been telling us. Please refrain from the kind of damning terminology that ‘poison pill’ represents.”

The decision to move the vote on the stadium agreement may itself decide the issue since PSV is already beyond the time frame required by Major League Soccer to secure a stadium agreement that would allow it to relocate the Columbus Crew team to Austin. PSV attorney Richard Suttle said the team will seek another extension on Friday.

“We had to get an extension from MLS in hopes of getting an answer tonight,” he said. “If the Council wants to take the time to look at these amendments – some may be OK, some may not be OK – and then come back Wednesday, that’s the Council’s prerogative. We are going to answer to the league tomorrow as to whether we can get another extension, and then we can tell you whether Wednesday will be for naught or not.”

Suttle added that any amendments that call for significant financial restructuring or payments from PSV are likely to kill the deal since the group has committed to spend $200 million to build the stadium, which will be turned over to the city in a move that removes the team’s property tax burden.

Over the course of nearly an hour that saw Council just start to examine the assorted amendments, there arose an agreement that city staff will need to prepare a compendium and evaluate which are likely to make the deal unpalatable.

Garza, who last week pushed for PSV to make a multimillion-dollar contribution to the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and add a surcharge on each ticket to fund Austin transportation initiatives, said Council collectively may be putting the deal in jeopardy.

“The reality is there’s not just one party to this agreement. There’s several parties – and if one party doesn’t agree, then it doesn’t make sense to even be considering it,” she said.

“We have the same thing when we have big (planned unit developments) or zoning cases where I would want 500 units of affordable housing, but I know that if we require 500 units the deal isn’t going to happen. So do you take zero and not have the development, or do you take the 150 that’s there? Of course I want as much out of this deal as possible, but that the end of the day, this is an agreement, and so I need to see what is really off the table.”

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