Stories to follow in 2019: Austin scores first major league team; soccer stadium to open in spring 2021

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Almost a year and a half after word spread that Austin could get a Major League Soccer franchise, the city received official recognition it will be home to the league’s 27th team.

Austin FC—FC meaning football club—will begin play in spring 2021 at a new $225 million stadium to be built in North Austin. The seemingly quick path to major league status has many supporters rejoicing over having a hometown team to cheer on.

“It’s the most loved sport all over the world,” Austin Anthem soccer supporter Sarah Beauchamp said. “People play it in alleyways and the field behind their house in almost every country. It’s uniting in that sense because it welcomes diversity just in that fact alone.”

However, others are left concerned about the impact the future stadium will have on their quality of life.

Paving the way for play

On Jan. 15, MLS Commissioner Don Garber confirmed Austin FC will be the league’s 27th team. But the path to Austin began in 2017 when Precourt Sports Ventures first announced it set its eyes on Austin. Austin FC Chairman and CEO Anthony Precourt, also chairman of PSV, which owns Austin FC, said he has long had an affection for Austin.

“It’s an inclusive place—what a place for soccer,” he said. “We like this city; we’re going to fight for this city; we’re going to make you proud. It’s incredible to say that we brought Austin it’s first Major League Soccer team.”

Because Austin FC will play at a new stadium to be built on city-owned land, the city finalized an agreement Dec. 19 with PSV, outlining the conditions it would have to meet.

Before crews start turning dirt, Austin FC has been building out its staff, including hiring Andy Loughnane as president. He said over the next couple of years, the staff will grow to 100 members. Recruiting for players will not begin until closer to the stadium opening, he said, adding recruitment will be international.

“We’re going to build a very ambitious club,” Loughnane said. “We want to one day be recognized as a club that has international stature and appeal, and part of that is the market itself and part of that is the way the club evolves and the club culture.”

The opposing team

Early on in the planning, some nearby residents expressed worries over the impact the stadium would have on traffic and their neighborhoods.

Because PSV has not yet submitted an official site plan to the city, it has not had to conduct a traffic impact analysis that will outline the projected traffic the stadium will generate and what improvements are recommended to help alleviate that traffic.

Loughnane said PSV will have more conversations related to parking.

“We’re confident that within a walking footprint of the stadium that there is ample parking that will be secured for stadium attendees,” he said.

Leslie Pool, Austin City Council member for District 7 where the stadium would be built, was one of four council members who voted against entering into an agreement with PSV. She said “a small number of people in 2016” knew about PSV’s interest, and if that had been shared with the rest of council, “we could have avoided a fight.”

“The approval happened so quickly, and because city staff and my district didn’t know it was going to happen on their doorstep, we couldn’t really prepare for it,” she said.

Even with an official agreement in hand, Pool said her role will be to “do my darnedest to make sure the community knows what’s going on” and ensure residents have their questions answered.

On Jan. 3, a neighborhood group called Friends of McKalla Place—comprising residents from the Gracywoods and North Austin Civic Association neighborhoods—submitted a petition with 29,000 signatures to the city clerk, asking for a May election to allow voters to decide on an ordinance that would require the sale or lease of city-owned land for sports facilities to be approved by voters.

“The petition at the very least could stop or at least alter the soccer deal,” said Gracywoods resident Craig Nazor, although Mayor Steve Adler said he is not concerned about the petition.

Even with a finalized agreement, Nazor believes the stadium is not a done deal yet because PSV still has to submit a site plan. Residents have concerns about the development causing flooding in nearby homes.

“If the Watershed [Protection Department] won’t accept their site plan they’re going to have to request variances,” Nazor said. “There could be promises in the agreement that can’t be kept. … Even if the soccer stadium gets built, we think this is the wrong way to do business.”

Support for the home team

Austin Anthem—the team’s supporters group—members are not worried about the petition, but they do not want to minimize the concerns of area residents.

“We still need to show we’re going to be good stewards of the community and neighbors,” Wells Branch resident and Anthem member Dan Conrad said. “Once they ultimately lose their petition and this all goes forward, we don’t want to antagonize them.”

Supporters are also not concerned about the location or the 1,000 parking spaces for 20,000 fans because of the diversity of other transportation options, such as MetroRail, buses, ride-hailing services and bicycles.

“From a soccer culture point of view, I love [the location],” said Cedar Park resident Natalie Czimskey, who plans to ride MetroRail to games. “In Europe, there’s no such thing as tailgating because everybody’s at the pub prior to the game. We have a lot of breweries here. We’re very close to where the stadium’s going to be.”

Moving forward, Austin Anthem will focus on building the fan base for Austin FC over the next two years. The stadium will have a supporters section with about 3,200 seats, and fans will also be tasked with choosing the team’s nickname.

“I think we’re all very thankful that there’s a two-year lead-up time so we can put our best foot forward and really do this right,” Conrad said. “We want to make sure that when we take the field that the stands are packed.”

MLS will not be Austin’s only soccer team. In March, the United Soccer League launches the Austin Bold FC, which will play at the Circuit of The Americas.

“Overall there’s definitely an appetite in the soccer community to support a major league soccer team and a minor league team,” Northwest Austin resident Jeremiah Bentley said.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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