Questions linger from Austin City Council over proposed terms for MLS stadium

Renderings for a proposed Major League Soccer stadium at McKalla Place in Austin.

Renderings for a proposed Major League Soccer stadium at McKalla Place in Austin.

Austin City Council members raised questions Wednesday afternoon over transportation, the termination clause and actual costs to the city in their ongoing discussion whether to allow a Major League Soccer stadium to be constructed on city-owned land.

Last Friday, staffers released a term sheet for a potential deal with Precourt Sports Ventures, or PSV, to relocate the Columbus Crew team and build a $200 million stadium in North Austin at 10414 McKalla Place.

Although some council members expressed support for the idea of MLS in Austin, most said the term sheet leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to say I want to move to negotiations, but if we do then I think that we need to very seriously consider just to negotiate and not negotiate and execute,” District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said. “There’s too many unknowns here.”

Items listed on the term sheet include:

  • The city would own the stadium and the land.

  • PSV would start paying rent in Year 6 at $550,000 per year, or $8.25 million for the initial 20-year lease.

  • PSV would have to enter into a non-relocation clause.

  • The city could host civic-oriented events and keep all revenue generated.

  • PSV would provide up to 1 acre for 130 affordable housing units.

Chief concerns among council members included how to hold PSV accountable to the community benefits; access in and out of the site; curtail the actual costs to the city, such as traffic management; a clear picture of what would happen if PSV terminated the deal; and how any affordable housing would be built on the site.

“I need to see some drawings and explanation on how Precourt expects to get people to and from the site,” District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool said.

On the termination clause, attorney Frank Jones told the council that part would be worked out in an official agreement and that the term sheet is non-binding.

“A non-relocation deal will have a much more significant impact on the team than you,” he said. “Worst-case scenario is the city gets a new stadium and no team. When you talk about termination provisions needing to be negotiated, it is mainly a mechanical exercise.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she would like to see the community benefits nailed down, including assurances that the new teams use local vendors, products and materials.

“‘Good-faith efforts’ are pretty general,” she said of the language currently in the term sheet.

Alter said she wants to see penalties included in the term sheet for PSV if it fails to uphold any part of the agreement.

“I do not understand what mechanisms we have to hold them accountable,” she said.

Council is slated to vote Aug. 9 on potentially authorizing negotiating and executing an official deal with PSV based on the terms previously discussed.

Securing support for transit

Days prior to the Aug. 1 meeting, District 2 Council Member Delia Garza, who is also a board member for the regional transit agency Capital Metro, wrote on the council message board that she is generally supportive of a soccer stadium at McKalla Place but is concerned over what she perceives as a “lack of any clear investment in our public transit system.”

“With a proposal that only includes 1,000 parking spaces for events at the space, we will most certainly be depending heavily on Cap Metro to get folks to and from the stadium,” she said.

Her message proposes that PSV provide Capital Metro with $3 million in funding—in addition to the anticipated $8.25 million in rent to the city—that the transit agency could use for either a rail station or enhanced bus service or for any other way that could improve the Capital Metro system.

She also proposes the city allocate $2 million of the rent money to Capital Metro and that PSV add a $1 transportation surcharge to each ticket.

“It is critical to have an investment in public transit to get folks to and from a public place,” she said Wednesday.

Residents voice concern over stadium proposal but others support soccer

Dozens of residents addressed council Wednesday. Many expressed concerns about using McKalla Place for a stadium, which would not generate property taxes because the land would remain public. Others were supportive of bringing professional soccer to Austin for the benefits it could bring to businesses and the community.

Trey Bueche, owner of Bat City Awards & Apparel in downtown Austin, touted the benefits to small businesses.

“It takes entities like this to bring money to stimulate the economy,” he said.

Jorge Chavez said he appreciates the proposed community benefits, including donations to charitable organizations as well as to Foundation Communities to build affordable housing.

“That is a big deal,” he said.

On the opposition side, residents including Marisa Perryman and Francoise Luca, both of whom live near McKalla Place, said they worry about the safety of pedestrians and a potential increase of people driving drunk in their neighborhoods.

“We need to really step back and think how we get 20,000 people in and out of this site safely,” said Luca, who is the president of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association. “The rail station is only one solution.”

North Austin resident Craig Nazor, a self-proclaimed “plant person,” said he thinks McKalla Place as it exists helps prevent flooding at a nearby creek that the city is already planning about $13 million in flood mitigation efforts.

“Little Walnut Creek is subject to flooding and it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

A city memo dated July 31 from the Watershed Protection Department to City Council provided an update on a potential wetland at McKalla Place. Chris Herrington, acting environmental officer for the department, wrote that the National Wetlands Inventory map showed a “short-lived, isolated holding pond that held water in 1976 but was not present in subsequent of prior historic aerial photographs.”

Council will also hear presentations for other proposed developments at McKalla Place on Tuesday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m. at City Hall. Those propels are due Friday.

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