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Soccer ball

Legal questions remain as soccer team once bound for Austin may stay put

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The possibility of Austin not becoming the relocation destination for an Ohio Major League Soccer franchise has brought a variety of new questions into the issue of the city providing land for a new 20,000-seat sports stadium in North Austin.

News broke on Friday that the Columbus Crew SC team could be purchased by a group of Ohio investors who have gone on record with their plans to keep the team there. That means whatever team arrives in Austin would have to be an expansion franchise, although the current owners of the Columbus team are moving ahead with their plans to relocate that club to Austin within the next year.

Precourt Sports Ventures, the group that this summer agreed to terms with City Council on a deal to use the property known as McKalla Place near the Domain to build a new stadium, had planned to have the team in Austin in time to play its 2019 season here. Team representatives said the logistics and scheduling have reached a point that 2020 is the earliest the team could likely come to Austin to play in a temporary venue, and the group is still working with the city to finalize the lease agreement for the McKalla Place property.

The initial deadline for the lease agreement was Oct. 9, but the term sheet included “good faith” extensions to December as long as both sides were making progress toward completion.

“Nothing has changed, and our deal is the same whether it’s the MLS team we’ve been talking about or a different, new team,” said Richard Suttle, an attorney for PSV. “Nothing is final yet with their sale, and even if it does get done, it doesn’t affect the deal we have reached with the city.”

Suttle and other PSV spokespeople declined to answer questions about the impact of an ongoing petition drive being mounted by the activist group IndyAustin that would require voter approval and a Council supermajority vote to approve any new agreement for use of city land for an entertainment facility. Such a rule, if enacted in a May 2019 election, wouldn’t invalidate the stadium deal once the contract is finalized. But any site plan or other permitting approvals related to the stadium would need a Council supermajority approval if they aren’t already approved by the time of the May 2019 election.

Bill Aleshire, an attorney who advised IndyAustin on the petition language and has informed the city of his intent to file legal actions to stop the stadium deal, said he’ll likely file suit requesting an injunction on the agreement citing several legal issues including that the McKalla Place property was purchased by Austin Water through charges to utility customers and, thus, shouldn’t be made available to a for-profit entity.

“I don’t believe the contract will pass legal muster, because I can see three or four other problems with it,” he said. “We’re now seeing that this was a bait-and-switch, that there was a hellacious stampede that was needed by the Council because we had to get this existing team here by 2019, or else it was never going to happen. And now we see, maybe that wasn’t the case and we’re not going to get an experienced existing team, but a new team instead.”

The Columbus news has caused other opponents of the stadium deal to call for reopening the land to proposals for development including mixed-use plans with affordable housing, office space and retail.

“Austin may still get an expansion team, which is also good news for Austin sports fans,” Council Member Leslie Pool said. “However, I believe now is the time to push the pause button on building a stadium on the McKalla site. Let’s redouble our efforts here at home to respond to legitimate taxpayer concerns about the subsidized deal. We should solicit proposals for developing McKalla and rework a stadium deal that is fair to all stakeholders.”

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