Major League Soccer proposal draws mix of support and worry from Austin residents at Thursday input session

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Austin is negotiating a deal that could relocate the Major League Soccer team from Columbus, Ohio to a proposed stadium in North Austin and on Thursday, residents articulated their concerns and desired outcomes of the potential agreement.

Since Anthony Precourt, owner of the MLS mainstay Columbus Crew, announced in October 2017 he was considering relocation to Austin—the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without a professional sports team—city leaders, residents, soccer fans and neighborhood representatives have been debating the event’s potential effect.

However, with the city and Precourt a month into serious negotiations and with only 20 days left until the sides are scheduled to present Austin City Council with a deal—Aug. 9—the public input session at the Central Library on Thursday seemed to carry more weight.

Precourt has offered to pay for all construction costs for the 20,000-seat soccer stadium in exchange for a full property tax exemption. Austin has offered the city-owned lot at 10414 McKalla Place in North Austin—valued at $29 million—as a potential site for the proposed arena but will require Precourt and his firm, Precourt Sports Ventures, to partner with the city and offer additional quality-of-life improvements through the deal.

Aside from rants of general support and objection to the large-scale project, residents on Thursday discussed what they would like to see in those quality-of-life improvements. Many people said they supported professional soccer in Austin but raised their own menu of concerns over how the city planned to get that accomplished.

Anxieties over the loss in property tax revenue over the next at least 20 years rose to the top of Thursday’s discussion. The assessed value of the McKalla Place property, like real estate all over Austin, is expected to increase exponentially over the next few decades, especially as Austin’s “second downtown” takes shape with The Domain and the Broadmoor redevelopment close by. Residents said with the potential 20-year extensions of the lease, the city stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that otherwise could be used for public school, social programs and general city improvements.

Neighbors from the Quail Creek neighborhood a mile away from the McKalla Place property said while everyone else gets to simply pass through and enjoy the stadium at their leisure, the stadium, with its traffic, bright lights and noise, becomes their new daily reality.

Many raised mobility concerns and pleaded for inclusion transportation infrastructure improvements in the deal.

Other residents, donning “MLS2ATX” garb, waxed poetic about the unifying power of professional sports and, specifically, soccer. They expressed concern there would never be another opportunity like the one in front of the city today.

District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool was the lone Austin City Council member at Thursday’s meeting. She said she hopes everyone will continue to scrutinize the deal.

Richard Suttle, a lobbyist with local law firm Amherst & Brown representing Precourt Sports Ventures, said he thought negotiations were going well and everyone at the city was doing their jobs. Although several residents were disappointed to find Thursday was not a question-and-answer session and only an input session, Suttle said with only 20 days until a deal presentation, there would not be time.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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