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Council vote on soccer stadium hinges on amendments – lots of them

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

After 10 months of discussion and roughly three months of often very public negotiations, the fate of Austin as the possible home of a professional sports franchise will come down to the fate of 28 amendments.

Today’s special called City Council meeting will in large part center on how many of those amendments – and the 37 discrete conditions they contain – will be approved for inclusion in the term sheet that will guide city staff’s final agreement negotiations with Precourt Sports Ventures on building a professional-scale stadium that would become the home of the Columbus Crew soccer club.

The amendments began accruing in the 24 hours preceding last week’s Council meeting. Many of them were crafted on the dais during deliberations – where it was expected the matter of moving ahead with an agreement to use the city’s McKalla Place property for a 20,000-seat stadium would be decided. Instead, the more than two dozen amendments caused the matter to be delayed until today, with Mayor Steve Adler saying he plans to push for a final vote before noon.

PSV and the city offered a sneak peek on Tuesday of what could be in store with the release of an updated compendium of the amendments including the soccer partnership’s answer on which conditions it will accept. The rough breakdown includes 16 conditions PSV agrees to, 15 it will not, five partial/maybe responses and one called “non-applicable.”

To view the complete summary, see the chart at the bottom of this story.

Richard Suttle, PSV’s Austin attorney, said the new terms including the agree-to amendments shift more responsibility onto the team and add clarity to items that some Council members felt were too legally unclear.

Asked about the suggestion from some Council members that the final agreement should come back for a final vote after Wednesday, Suttle said that could cause a delay, or worse, in the effort to move the team to Austin.

“To come back for further approvals would mean another delay with the league, in planning for temporary facilities and designing the stadium,” he said. “Without a vote to authorize the city manager to execute the agreements, I can’t say what the future of (Major League Soccer) in Austin will be.”

Adler said he plans to suggest the Council vote to make the previous term sheet plus PSV’s “yes” conditions the new base term sheet and then move ahead with discussion and possible votes on adding other amendments/conditions to be included in a final vote.

Adler has regularly called the term sheet negotiated between city staff and PSV reps one of the most favorable for a local government he’s seen in the recent history of stadiums built using some level of public involvement.

In broad terms, the current agreement outlines a 20-year lease for the property with $550,000 annual rent paid to the city after the first five years. PSV would privately finance the $200 million stadium and give it to the city – to remove its property tax burden – while also building community gathering spaces and providing room for affordable housing on some of the 24-acre parcel.

Adler said his hope is that a vote to approve the terms Wednesday would come with the approval for City Manager Spencer Cronk to execute the final agreement without further Council approval.

“Coming back for one more approval is effectively a ‘no’ vote, and if what we’re saying is this now waits until October until the final document is ready, then MLS and the team will need to start entertaining other options,” he said.

“We’ve been negotiating this for three months, but the deal points and questions we’re dealing with now, we could have been asking them months ago. Some of the questions being asked are legitimate and deserve answers, but even if we’d had a one-year (request for proposal) process, this Council would still feel like there are questions they didn’t get answered the way they want.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo submitted 11 of the amendments, including conditions concerning use of the stadium for public events and environmental building standards, and said a measure giving the city some involvement in the ancillary development of the property is an issue she wants answered. PSV responded with a “no” to that item on Tuesday’s amendment breakdown.

“I believe a lot depends on what that final agreement sheet looks like and whether there are some areas that still need some more information,” she said. “Concerning ancillary development, in my opinion the term sheet from last week is extremely vague and would appear to give Precourt the rights to all of that property without a revenue sharing for the city, and it’s silent on revenue share and build-out. If my amendment addressing that is unsuccessful, then I believe it needs to come back (for final agreement approval) to make sure we clarify that point.”

Council Member Alison Alter said she still has concerns over equity issues involving PSV’s support of boys’ and girls’ soccer clubs. She said the short time frame to negotiate the deal has made it difficult for her and others to address all of the legal and financial questions surrounding the city turning a piece of land over to private entity.

“It’d be irresponsible to negotiate and execute the agreement right now when there are too many unknowns,” she said. “Until I see those addressed in clear legal terms, I won’t be comfortable with the agreement.”

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Photo by Andy Witchger made available on Flickr by a Creative Commons license.

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