Get Your Programs Here! Your Guide To The Players In Austin's Soccer Saga

Aug 9, 2018
Originally published on August 14, 2018 9:34 am

The Austin City Council could vote today on whether to bring Major League Soccer to North Austin.

Precourt Sports Ventures is hoping to move the professional soccer team in Columbus, Ohio, to a team-built stadium on city-owned land near the Domain. Precourt and city staff released updated terms on a deal late Wednesday. During its meeting today, the council will weigh the costs and benefits to the public, and if the measure passes, the team now known as the Columbus Crew could be calling Austin home.

Here is a (somewhat) comprehensive guide to who the players are and what's at stake.

After public opinion pushed Precourt away from its first two choices for a stadium – Butler Shores and Roy Guerrero Park – the club settled on a parcel city staff identified last spring as a suitable location. Since then, the 24-acre site is riding a surge of popularity.

Lacking any defining characteristics, the property is named for the short street where it sits at a dead end.

McKalla Place was once home to a plant owned by Reichhold Chemical, an international chemical manufacturer. The company made benzoyl peroxide and other flammable liquids on the site until an explosion in 1985.

The city bought the property 10 years later for a planned water service center. Construction stopped after another explosion in 2003. It was then determined the site needed extensive environmental remediation.

After the site was cleaned up, Mobile Loaves and Fishes considered it for an RV park in 2010 to house the homeless. That project turned into a tiny home community in the east.

In March, City Council members unanimously voted to study McKalla for use as a soccer venue.

Since then, two developers have tried to make offers on the property. One of those, Capella Capital Partners, owns an adjacent piece of land.

MLS is the top tier of professional soccer in the United States. The league has a unique ownership arrangement in that it owns all the teams in the league. Each team is a share. Investor groups, like Precourt Sports Ventures, own one share, like the Columbus Crew.

The MLS corporate structure becomes important when teams engage in relocation talks or negotiations with counties and cities over stadium arrangements.

An investment banker, Anthony Precourt founded Precourt Capital Management in 2008, a private equity firm that invested in energy, according to the Crew's website. He formed Precourt Sports Ventures in 2012 and bought the Crew for a reported $68 million in 2013 – a record price for an MLS team at the time.

Last October, Precourt said he was considering moving the Crew to Austin for the 2019 season – if he could get stadium deal here.

The Crew is often called the "first team" in the MLS. It was among the league's 10 charter franchises. Its first owner was Lamar Hunt, a co-founder of the league with the American Football League, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bulls. Hunt also built what would become Mapfre Stadium, the first soccer-only stadium in the United States, for Columbus.

The team won the MLS Cup in 2008 and three supporters shields (‘04, ‘08, ‘09) for the best regular season record. Last season, with the talk of a move occupying its front office, the team reached the MLS Eastern Conference finals.

Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria appear to be in favor of bringing a professional soccer team to Austin.

Adler has said he is "for" an MLS stadium in the "right location." This week he told KUT that unlike other cities, Austin will not have to write checks to get this team. He added that the team brings a lot of benefits on the public land.

"You know, not every piece of property the city owns is a piece of property that has to be put to its highest and best economic value return," he said. "We have a beautiful piece of property, expensive piece of property, that's under the library downtown."

Garza, Tovo and Renteria have all co-sponsored MLS agenda items since December.

Leslie Pool, Alison Alter, Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair appear to be against a pro soccer deal.

Pool represents the area around McKalla Place. She began the push to open up the property for competitive bids in June and has co-sponsored agenda items that would, in effect, delay the stadium decision.

On Aug. 7, the four released a memo that would up the ante for the team from the term sheet negotiated with city staff two weeks ago. Among other changes, the council members would like Precourt to pay market rate for rent and taxes to the county and school district. It also wants the team to cover the cost of a new MetroRail stop.

It's unclear where Greg Casar, Ann Kitchen and Jimmy Flannigan stand on the issue.

"I don't know how I'm going to vote Thursday," Flannigan said after airing his frustration with the process at a special meeting Aug. 7.

An online group has remained steadfastly loyal to the Crew remaining in Columbus. The grassroots group created quite a force on social media, fighting the proposed move to Austin.

The group has moved the wheels of government at the city, county and state level. Ohio's attorney general is now suing MLS over a state law created after the Cleveland Browns left in the 1990s. The "Modell Law" requires sports franchises to find alternate local ownership before relocating.

Capella owns a parcel of land next to McKalla and would be neighbors to a stadium. The company said it gained some ground trying to buy the property in 2016, but a deal stalled after former City Manager Marc Ott left.

Capella has offered up two counterproposals. One proposal is to build residential, office and retail on the site, while building the stadium at Circuit of the Americas. The stadium would be shared by the Columbus Crew and the new United Soccer League team. USL team owner Bobby Epstein is supportive of this idea. Precourt, to date, is not.

Capella has also proposed building the MLS stadium on 9 acres of the site and letting it build a mixed-used development around it.

The Whitfield Co. has offered up a mix of grocery, retail and arts spaces for the McKalla site. TWC has worked with Foundation Communities on a number of its land buys for affordable housing developments.

After a big announcement last summer, the Austin expansion team of the United Soccer League sputtered because of news that Major League Soccer could come here. The team has since hired a coach and signed players. Its stadium plans are set, and the team should be up and running at Circuit of the Americas by March when the season starts.

The USL is one tier below MLS, determined by the sport's international governing body, FIFA.

Can Austin support two professional soccer teams?

Wait, what? Yes, San Antonio could be the odd city out. It has been home to its own USL team for almost three seasons, San Antonio FC. The team's investors also own the NBA's Spurs and the Austin Spurs. The city's bid for an MLS expansion team was one of several to make the final cut last year. If the Crew relocates to Austin, that would put a big damper on San Antonio's bid.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told Texas Public Radio he is skeptical San Antonio would get an MLS team if one moves to Austin. "You don't put two major franchises like that 75 miles apart," he said.

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