Update: MLS announced it has reached a deal to sell the Columbus Crew. Read the full story here.
Columbus Attorney Zach Klein says the city and state have dismissed their lawsuit against Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures, amid negotiations over purchasing the Columbus Crew.
“From the start, this litigation was about keeping the Crew in Columbus, and I believe we are finally there,” Klein wrote in a statement on Twitter.
Klein, along with Attorney General and incoming governor Mike DeWine, filed suit against the Crew owners in March over their plan to move the team to Austin, Texas. The lawsuit cited “Modell Law,” which states that teams playing in publicly-supported stadiums cannot leave town without first giving locals the option to purchase.
Owner Anthony Precourt and MLS officials argued the statute was unconstitutional because it obstructed their right to do business.
In October, local buyers finally emerged: Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, Columbus investor Pete Edwards Jr., and the Columbus Partnership. City leaders eventually unveiled a plan to purchase the Crew and build a new downtown stadium for the price of $645 million, most of which comes from those private investors.
Columbus City Council and the Franklin County Commissioners signed off on the proposal soon after. MLS had given the city until the end of the year to reach a deal.
“After having conversations with the new ownership group, I believe that it’s time to tentatively dismiss the lawsuit so that the deal can be finalized, and once it’s done, the case can be permanently closed,” Klein continued.
The city of Columbus and Franklin County each pledged $50 million for developing the stadium site, which is part of a larger mixed-use development called Confluence Village. Ohio legislators threw in $15 million of state money as well, which would trigger "Modell Law" in the future should the new owners attempt to leave.
Calling the case "emotionally fraught," a judge in December allowed the lawsuit to proceed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
At a December press event to announce the purchase, DeWine said the lawsuit already succeeded in one important sense.
“The idea was to buy some time as well,” DeWine said. “We did that.”
Klein said at a press conference Friday that the lawsuit can be revived "if necessary," because it was dismissed "with prejudice. However, he's optimistic the dismissal paves the way towards finalizing the sale.
"By seeking to dimisss without prejudice, the city and state, amongst other things, are signaling that they still beleive the merits of their case are valid," Klein said in a press release.
As part of the deal with MLS, Precourt will still move to the Texas capitol with his own franchise: Austin FC. Last week, he signed a lease with the city of Austin for a stadium site at McKalla Place. The 24-acre development will be entirely financed by Precourt, and is expected to cost $220 million.