The Austin Chronicle

McKalla Place, Take Your Pick: Soccer Stadium or Affordable Housing

One of two fates awaits the city-owned tract

By Austin Sanders, June 22, 2018, News

City Council will take up two resolutions June 28 that could determine the future of McKalla Place, the city-owned lot eyed for a soccer stadium by some on the dais, and a mixed-use development by others.

Item 60 would direct City Manager Spen­cer Cronk to "solicit plans for development" of the site, including any involving a professional sports stadium but also others that adhere to a number of city goals outlined in strategic vision documents like Imag­ine Austin, the North Burnet/Gateway Master Plan, and the Austin Strate­gic Housing Blueprint. Sponsored by Leslie Pool, Alison Alter, Ora Houston, and Ellen Troxclair, the resolution prioritizes affordable housing, park space accessible to the public throughout the year, and public transit improvements, "including a train station." The resolution also directs Cronk to give private developers enough time to submit proposals with a "reasonable degree of detail," so Council can debate the merits of those proposals, including the one for a soccer stadium that's already been submitted by Precourt Sports Ventures.

The vague timeline of the "pro-solicitation" resolution would pose a threat to the already narrow window in which PSV seeks direction from Council. The group has indicated that Major League Soccer wants signs of progress on any potential deal by July 1, in order to get affairs together for the 2019 season. Last week, after Council deliberated Precourt's proposal at a work session, PSV's Austin-based consultant Mark Littlefield said "an RFP may not be mortal, but it would be difficult to overcome."

Meanwhile, via Item 64, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, Mayor Steve Adler, and CMs Pio Renteria and Delia Garza seek to forgo a solicitation process and proceed down the path toward making a deal with PSV, directing Cronk to begin negotiations with a lengthy list of considerations: minimizing city investment in the project; adherence to Austin Energy Green Building standards, and city initiatives that promote minority- and woman-owned enterprises; retention of "the greatest possible City and nonprofit use of the stadium"; maximizing on-site affordable housing (which was not included in PSV's proposal); developing a comprehensive transportation plan; and establishing "financial penalties" aimed at preventing the team from relocating. Reached Tuesday, PSV lobbyist Richard Suttle said there wasn't anything unreasonable in Tovo's resolution and that the recommendations were on the table for consideration in any future negotiations with the city.

There's more to Tovo's resolution, giving it the feel of a catch-all approach to addressing concerns expressed by colleagues who strongly support bringing MLS soccer to Austin, and those more lukewarm on the initial proposal. Caught in the middle are the three swing votes of Greg Casar, Jimmy Flannigan, and Ann Kitchen.

Casar has been notably quiet on the issue, rarely providing comment when asked and remaining silent during last week's work session. He's a consistent advocate for affordable housing, though there would be ideas for him to rally behind in either resolution. Flannigan has expressed support for the stadium, and said Monday that Precourt's proposal was worth hearing out. He's concerned about how much the public will have access to the site on non-game days. PSV's proposal includes green space and a performance area that would be available, but the group has said that the city would only be able to use the stadium itself a limited number of times each year.

Speaking on Monday, Flannigan also questioned why McKalla was being promoted as a prime site for affordable housing by some of his colleagues when other city-owned land has not received the same level of attention. He wondered how valuable the RFP process was to them, pointing to other no-bid agreements supported by the sponsoring CMs. "It's silly to assign moral high ground to this RFP concept when it's not consistent with previous actions of some of those council members" who support the resolution, he said.

For her part, Kitchen also said she supported a soccer stadium at McKalla, but wanted to make sure the city was getting the best deal financially. Reached Tuesday, she identified several items in Tovo's resolution as being important to any possible deal, specifically the call for a parking and transportation plan; exploration of on-site affordable housing; and assurance that the city "does not give away our assets." She said she was "happy to continue conversations" with Precourt, if not ready to commit to moving forward with a potential deal.

"Let's dig into the details," she said, "to see if what PSV is offering is a good fit for the city."

Copyright © 2018 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.