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Austin FC hires legislative lobbyists

Friday, April 5, 2019 by Jo Clifton

The soccer club Austin FC, owned by Precourt Sports Ventures, hired three lobbyists on March 7, the day after Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, introduced legislation that could seriously impact Precourt’s plans for a new soccer stadium at McKalla Place.

The club hired Neal T. “Buddy” Jones of HillCo Partners, a well-known lobbyist with many years of experience, as well as two of his associates, Kelly Barnes and J. McCartt.

As the law currently stands, property the city owns is not subject to property taxes from other local entities. That leaves Travis County, Austin Independent School District, Austin Community College and Central Health without a mechanism to assess taxes.

In December, the city signed a lease agreement with Precourt allowing the company to build and operate a Major League Soccer stadium at McKalla Place for 20 years. Precourt agreed to pay the city a rental fee of $8.25 million over that time, but made no agreements with the other entities.

The Austin Monitor attempted to discuss the legislation with Jones, Barnes and McCartt but none of them returned our calls. Richard Suttle, Precourt’s attorney in Austin, also indicated that he would not have anything to say about the subject.

No members of the Austin ISD board responded to a request for comment.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty returned a call to the Monitor on Friday, saying, “I think the bill is a good bill for Travis County.” Precourt, he said, should at least come and ask Travis County to give up those tax dollars, adding that Precourt representatives have not talked to commissioners.

As for former county auditor Susan Spataro, who asked Bettencourt to carry the legislation, she readily admits that she has done property tax work for Bobby Epstein, the owner of another soccer club at Circuit of the Americas. However, she says her work on this legislation is about public policy and that she is not receiving any compensation for it. Attorney Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County judge, also says he is not being paid for his work on this issue.

Both Spataro and Aleshire took issue with Mayor Steve Adler’s comments in Thursday’s Austin Monitor about the fact that the proposed change in state law would not impact the city’s agreement with Precourt. While the city did not promise Precourt it would not have to pay taxes to other entities, the lease agreement states that if there is a legal determination that the stadium is not exempt from taxation, “the parties shall discuss in good faith making adjustments to the financial and other terms of this lease ….” That could mean Precourt would not pay the city the price agreed to in the lease.

In addition, the lease says the tenant, Precourt, shall have a right to terminate the lease with six months notice. The city also promises to cooperate in any “tax proceeding” if Precourt requests such action.

Rendering courtesy of Precourt Sports Ventures.

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