Council Approves Deal for Soccer at McKalla Place
Members vote 7-4 in favor of Precourt plan
By Austin Sanders,
2:37PM, Wed. Aug. 15, 2018
City Council voted 7-4 to direct City Manager Spencer Cronk to finalize and sign an agreement with Precourt Sports Ventures that should result in Austin landing its own Major League Soccer team, to play in a stadium at McKalla Place.
At a special called meeting on Wednesday, members spent nearly five hours debating many, but not all, of the 28 proposed amendments to the term sheet between the city and PSV. CMs Leslie Pool, Ora Houston, Ellen Troxclair, and Alison Alter voted against the proposal.
An exasperated Mayor Steve Adler steered the meeting through a few lengthy tangents. At one point, he said, “It’s beginning to feel like we’re going to try to talk this thing or amendment it to death.” Some of the tangents included a change to an agreed-upon amendment from Delia Garza to provide $3 million in funding to Capital Metro over a 15-year period. Garza wanted to add a financial penalty aimed at ensuring PSV would fulfill the obligation, but she withdrew that effort when her colleagues agreed that failure to pay would put PSV in violation of the lease. As with any breach of the lease, the city would have the power to evict PSV from their $200 million stadium, a threat that would presumably keep PSV in line. Regardless, Alter pushed the city’s negotiating team to establish “clear penalties that happen along the way to eviction” in the final agreement.
Council members also spent about an hour discussing how ancillary development at the McKalla site would be handled. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo proposed amending the term sheet to give the city sole authority over what kind of ancillary projects could be undertaken on the land not used for stadium purposes, but the amendment was eventually modified to make any future development at McKalla subject to mutual agreement between the city and PSV. A lengthy debate on whether or not the site is a wetland also caused the discussion to drag on. City staff doesn’t think any wetland protections are necessary, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have indicated they may disagree. If they declare the site a protected wetland, PSV would have to follow federal law by preserving and protecting any sensitive environmental features on the site. An amendment from Tovo to quickly reach a determination on whether or not those protections will be needed passed.
Other provisions limiting PSV’s ability to brand public infrastructure with signage and increasing the sustainability standards PSV would be required to meet also failed. Some of the potentially deal-breaking amendments (given PSV’s increased financial investment from the original term sheet) also failed: One from Troxclair to raise PSV’s rent payments to over $950,000, along with another from Alter that would cap the amount of environmental remediation costs incurred by the city (should any arise) at $500,000, were unsuccessful. However, amendments from Tovo pushing PSV to achieve a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard, asking PSV to outline a plan for how they would utilize local vendors at the site at least six months before the stadium opens also passed, and a requirement preventing PSV from claiming any grandfather rights in the land use code also passed.
After the vote, the MLS2ATX burst into applause, and the PSV side was visibly enthused. On the way out of Council chambers, Precourt’s Austin-based consultant Richard Suttle summed up the feeling of every MLS fan in the city: “Now, we play soccer.”
But first, PSV must begin the real work of moving the team to Austin: paying architects to flesh out the stadium design and engineers to begin constructing it; identifying a training facility and temporary playing field for the 2019 season; and other particulars that have been put on hold pending a final decision from Council. As one PSV rep put it, now that the city has made a decision, Anthony Precourt can turn on the “financial faucet” that will fund the Columbus Crew’s relocation to Austin.