The city of Austin certified a petition Feb. 11 submitted by a group of residents in North Austin that asks for sports stadium deals on public land to be put to a public vote.
A group called Friends of McKalla Place, comprising mostly residents from Gracywoods and the North Austin Civic Association neighborhoods, filed the petition Jan. 3.
“Today, the city of Austin acknowledged the obvious: that tens of thousands of everyday Austinites have serious questions about the McKalla stadium deal,” said Francoise Luca, spokeswoman for Friends of McKalla Place and president of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association, in a statement. “That plan allows a billionaire to build a stadium on public land and then profit from it for decades without paying a dime in property taxes.”
The petition proposes an ordinance “requiring that any sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage or alienation of city-owned land for a sports facility, sports arena and/or concert stadium shall require City Council and voter approval before it can become effective.”
City spokesman David Green told Community Impact Newspaper that city staffers are now assessing what this petition might mean for the Major League Soccer stadium deal the city finalized in December with Precourt Sports Ventures.
That deal will bring the Austin FC—meaning football club—to play at a new $225 million stadium at 10414 McKall Place, Austin in spring 2021. Construction is planned to begin this fall. Precourt is financing the stadium but will not be paying taxes and instead begin paying $550,000 per year in rent beginning in year 6 of the deal.
In a statement released Feb. 11, Austin FC officials neither the petition nor possible election would affect MLS coming to Austin in 2021.
“Austin FC is already a part of this community. The City Council-approved lease for McKalla Place is signed, and the site plan has been filed," the statement read. "These decisions were made after a thorough community engagement process that included more than 10 community engagement sessions and eight City Council meetings. As a result of the site plan being filed, this petition initiative cannot retroactively overturn the binding result of the council vote that approved the 100 percent privately financed construction of the stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place."
More than 29,000 residents signed the petition, and the City Clerk’s office reported that the petition contained two versions of the proposed language for the ordinance. Because of that the clerk’s office removed 225 signatures, leaving about 28,900 signatures, of which 26,441 are estimated to be valid.
Per city code, Friends of McKalla Place only needed 20,000 signatures.
“As neighbors, we have concerns about the proposed stadium’s impact on traffic, noise, and the environment,” Luca said. “All Austinites should be concerned about the property tax breaks being offered to the stadium’s billionaire because it robs our schools, social services of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.”
Now that the petition has been certified, Austin City Council has 10 days, or until Feb. 21, to adopt the ordinance as proposed or call an election later in the year to send the initiative to a public vote.
Because the Nov. 6, 2018 election contained a special election with charter amendments, petitions and bonds, council would not be able to call the election for May, Green said. This means the next election that could include the petition proposal would be in November 2019.
Editor's note: This post was updated to include a statement from Austin FC.