The Austin City Council, shortly after 3:45 am Friday, directed City Manager Spencer Cronk to begin negotiating with Precourt Sports Ventures to try to bring Major League Soccer to the city.
The council agreed to review the negotiation and, if satisfied, be prepared to vote on a deal at its Aug. 9 meeting.
The vote marked the first time the council and Mayor Steve Adler have been unanimous in their desire to bring Precourt’s franchise, the Columbus Crew, to Austin since owner Anthony Precourt first floated the idea last fall.
The council made it clear — by giving 18 guidelines for negotiation to Cronk — that Friday’s vote, as Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said, “should not be seen as an approval, but the continuation of a negotiation.”
There is much left to negotiate. Precourt has offered to build a $200 million stadium at his company’s expense. But several council members have objected to PSV’s request to lease the 24 acres of city-owned property at McKalla Place for $1 a year and pay no property taxes on it for the length of the lease — up to 80 years.
A city analysis of the Precourt offer determined that city taxpayers are responsible for “all site preparation, remediation and off-site infrastructure,” including $15.9 million in water system improvements and a $13 million rail station because of parking problems at the site.
And there is also the matter of affordable housing on the site, something Precourt added to the project only this week, after Council Member Leslie Pool called the deal a “massive giveaway.” Council Member Greg Casar added an amendment calling for a minimum of 130 affordable housing units to be built and said he would not vote for the deal without them.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo hinted that those units, whatever the number, might not be built as part of the soccer project, but on another city-owned site.
Casar told an early morning audience — that still included vocal soccer fans — he was supporting the negotiation for the cultural benefits professional soccer would bring to the city.
He acknowledged, as The Texas Monitor reported in March, that, invariably, professional sports franchises cost taxpayers a lot of money. The negotiation with the city manager and Precourt, he said, will determine the cost and the benefit.
“MLS doesn’t generate a ton of money,” Casar said. “It isn’t the best business deal we could get for the site. I wish it wasn’t the way the game was played. But if we were only looking to make money, we shouldn’t be considering soccer or affordable housing at the site.”
The council didn’t close out on making a better deal Friday morning, voting to encourage other development bids for McKalla Place, but stopping short of setting up a formal bidding process. At least two developers have come forward with plans, one of them offering $22.5 million for land on which to build retail and housing units.
The council asked Cronk to be aware of at least 18 items added as amendments to the resolution it passed Friday morning. They include:
- Get the best possible financial return and community benefits for the city by minimizing the use of city funds and the potential for loss of city revenue.
- Maximize affordable housing on-site.
- Require PSV to fully fund a Capital Metro Rail station to serve the site.
- Maximize use of the stadium and site for city and non-profit civic events and allow the city to keep the revenue from such events.
- Require PSV to pay for construction, development, operations, and maintenance of the stadium and site, as well as any future expansion or renovation.
- Detail support of boys and girls soccer in Austin, with a plan for low-income families and distribute significant numbers of free and low-cost tickets.
- Establish financial penalties to deter PSV and Major League Soccer from relocating.
Pool told the audience the amendments improved the city’s negotiating position with PSV, but that she would reserve judgement until she saw what the negotiation produces.
“What was clearest to me, was that we all want the best deal for the city,” Pool said.
Shortly before the vote, Precourt told the council he would negotiate in good faith. “We’re committed to giving back to this dynamic community in many ways. It’s important to bring major league soccer to Austin, Texas.”
“I believe there is a good deal to be made here,” Adler said just before the vote. “If we are able to deliver soccer, I think the community has a grand opportunity to get together for a common purpose in a way it just doesn’t have now.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].