Playing Through

Ed Easton is initiating interest in a soccer-specific stadium for the Austin Aztex that would also play host to concerts

Playing Through

Mention the word "stadium," and what likely comes to mind is some colossal flying saucer sitting amid acres of desolate parking lots, empty and forlorn all but a dozen days of the year. Ed Easton would like to disabuse you of those assumptions.

Easton, 43, describes himself as a guy "who drank the Kool-Aid," and that applies first and foremost to soccer but also to public transportation and urban planning (he works for Capital Metro). Rather than just grumbling about the way things are, Easton is one of those eminently admirable citizens who forms organizations and starts drafting plans, trying to figure out how to make things different.

As one of the Austin Aztex's first season-ticket holders, Easton volunteered to pick up trash after last year's Premier Development League games. Having seen some half-assed minor league teams come and go in Austin, he was immediately impressed with owners Phil and Kay Rawlins. "It's not like the Aztex are going to just fold up shop," he tells me. "Phil and Kay are in it for the long haul and for the right reasons, not just to make money."

Easton has just one complaint: The team needs a soccer-specific stadium.

Just so we're clear, Easton isn't talking about some 100,000-seat monstrosity. He's talking about something small, intimate, an 8,000- to 12,000-seat facility, accessible by public transportation, pedestrian-friendly, and comfortably integrated into its neighborhood, a venue that could also play host to concerts. He has a few sites in mind – e.g., Highland Mall or a refurbished House Park – but right now, he and the Grassroots Austin Stadium Supporters (www.austinstadium.org) are only in the fantasy stages, and all ideas are welcome. [Ed. note, Oct. 5, 2015: This site is no longer active. For a similar current effort, see http://stadiumforaustin.com.]

As it happens, I've been nursing these same soccer-stadium fantasies myself, ever since I saw my first Longhorns women's game at Mike A. Myers Stadium. Like a lot of soccer pitches, Myers is surrounded by a track. I don't care how plush the pitch is, that track is precisely what ruins the experience for fans, putting them a good 20 yards away from the field. For soccer to really work, it requires a European intimacy – a concept few of the game's American promoters seem to grasp.

Rawlins is a Brit, and he gets it. Still, it's a little much to ask him to go out and build a $15 million stadium just because Easton wants one. For now, Easton is just trying to get a conversation started, putting people's apprehensions to rest. A small stadium doesn't have to be a blight on the landscape. "It can be part of the fabric of the neighborhood, as they are in England and other places, a place surrounded by pubs and coffee shops, that you can walk or take a metro line to," he says. "That's what living in a real city means. It can be done."

Yes, it can.

Please write Mr. Hackett at playingthrough@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Ed Easton, Austin Aztex, Phil Rawlins, Grassroots Austin Stadium Supporters, Mike A. Myers Stadium

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