Austin council’s ‘poison pills’ threaten Mayor Adler’s soccer deal

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Mayor Adler soccer deal

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Thursday night he wants the city council to agree to a deal to allow the Columbus Crew to build a $200 million stadium at city-owned McKalla Place and bring Major League Soccer to Austin.

Little else was clear after more than three hours of the same arguments for and against a deal with franchise owner Precourt Sports Ventures, from dozens of citizen speakers and dozens of amendments to a 30-page term sheet agreed to by city staff and Precourt.

Faced with an inundation of changes proposed by six council members, several of which he called “poison pills” crafted to kill a deal with Precourt, Adler called for a special meeting for 9 am next Wednesday morning. Adler said he intended to call for a vote no later than 11:30 am that day.

“We don’t have many events in this city that bring all people together. That’s what this project represents for me,” Adler told a city council chamber favoring soccer fans, many of them wearing soccer scarves and promotional t-shirts. “This will be a tremendous benefit for the community. Not just a nice thing for the city, it’s something this city sorely, sorely needs.”

For the first time in the months since council member Leslie Pool warned the early offers by Precourt were a “massive giveaway,” Adler showed some impatience with the council’s inclination to ask for more from Precourt. In particular, he pinpointed the requests for affordable housing and a demand that Precourt pay for a $13 million train station at the site.

“Not everything we do affects homelessness, affordable housing and mobility. Not everything has to solve all of our problems,” Adler said. “This project is being used to solve all of our problems at the risk of losing something like this. I’ve seen deals in other cities. This deal is better than the others.”

It wasn’t clear if the amendments proposed by the council or the delay in the vote until Wednesday would kill a possible deal with Precourt. Spokesman Richard Suttle told the council the franchise would have to ask Major League Soccer to extend a deadline for a decision that was supposed to have come Thursday night.

The league originally set a deadline for approving the relocation of the Crew to Austin to the end of June.

Responding to a question from Adler, Suttle said Precourt would need some time to go through the new amendments, many of which asked for financial considerations.

“I can tell you that many of these amendments are poison pills,” Suttle said. “The city will not get an MLS franchise if it gets any more unbalanced.”

Adler defended his use of the term poison pill to Pool, who has led opposition to the deal and called it “disrespectful to the process.”

Council member Delia Garza, who has had her own concerns about the affordable housing and transit components, expressed concern that the council had no way of knowing how much to ask for without imperiling a deal.

Debate took a lengthy and sometimes testy detour into the gender equity of the community benefits package from Precourt Sports Ventures. Kitchen, Alter and Tovo, in particular, took offense to a lack of detail about girls and women’s benefits provided by Precourt’s spokesman, Richard Suttle.

Shortly before 10 pm, council members began a flurry of paper distribution. 25 amendments from six of the 10 council members, 10 of them from Kathie Tovo.

“I’m ready to vote no on all of the amendments. That would get us out of here,” Adler said to laughter and applause from the audience. “A deal on a tract of land that no one paid attention to for many years now becomes the most desirable tract in the city.”

Those concerns were not broadly shared by council members who brought amendments and spent at least 20 minutes trying to discern if there was gender equity in the community benefits included in the term sheet.

What went largely missing Thursday night was a discussion among council members of a counter-offer made earlier this week by council members Pool, Alison Alter, Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair.

Their proposal called for more than doubling the rent agreed to in the term sheet, a commitment to pay for the train station, an increase in the ticket surcharge and other concessions from Precourt.

Also absent was a discussion of the merits of six proposals from five local parties for alternative developments for the 24-acre McKalla Place tract that had for years drawn little interest until Precourt identified it as a potential soccer stadium site.

Most of the developers offered mixed use plans that catered to the expressed desires of council members: hundreds of units of affordable housing and a train station. All but one had a plan to purchase rather than lease the land and to pay property taxes, unlike the Precourt offer.

On the day before the meeting, city staff distributed to the council a revised term sheet that included just one financial change: a penalty of $1 million a year for every year left on the contract if Precourt were to relocate again.

None of the concessions asked for by the four council members were incorporated into the revision.

With all that was already in play, the dozens of amendments to the slightly revised term sheet prompted Alter to tell the audience Thursday night, “It’s obvious there is not a majority to approve this tonight.”

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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