AUSTIN (AP) – The Austin City Council put off until next week a vote on a stadium proposal that could trigger Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew to move to Texas as early as the 2019 season.
The council met for several hours Thursday night to vote on a plan to let Crew owner Anthony Precourt build a 20,000-seat, $200 million privately-funding stadium on city land.
Precourt has been exploring moving one of MLS’ founding clubs to Austin since 2017. He earlier in the day urged council members to adopt what he called the “most favorable” stadium deal for any MLS city.
The Austin proposal is strongly supported by Mayor Steve Adler. But it has faced tough resistance from some council members who question whether the land could be better used for affordable housing or parks in Texas’ booming capital city.
“We don’t have very many events in this city that bring everybody together, that bring people of every walk of like together,” Adler said. “That’s a huge thing, a huge value for a city in desperate need of something like this. Not everything has to solve all of our problems.”
Adler said he thought the plan had the votes to pass, but agreed to delay action until Aug. 15 after several council members said they wanted more time to review a flurry of late-filed amendments.
Austin City Council has been negotiating with Precourt for about 10 months. Richard Suttle, Precourt’s lobbyist before the council, has said any delay makes it more difficult to move in time for the 2019 season.
Suttle said he’s optimistic the votes are lining up to support the plan, despite the delay.
“We have to tell the league the city is making some tweaks to the term sheet,” Suttle said. “But it appears there’s a majority support vote to bring MLS to Austin.”
Several council members were frustrated that the plan spends $36 million on a boys’ development academy, which Suttle said is required by MLS, but doesn’t list a similar commitment or expense for girls.
Suttle said Precourt has a written agreement with a local soccer organization to boost girls’ soccer, but refused to disclose the details of what he called a private contract.
“It’s appropriate to ask how women and girls benefit,” said council member Ann Kitchen. “It disturbs me that I’m told we can’t know.”
Columbus has fought to hold onto its team. Fan group Save the Crew has rallied support for season ticket pledges and produced its own stadium proposal. A state lawsuit seeks to block the move, and Columbus fans hope a locally-financed ownership group will step forward to buy the team.
Precourt, a San Francisco-based investor, bought the Crew in 2013. His purchase agreement included a promise to keep the Crew in Columbus for at least 10 years, but it also had a clause that would let him move to Austin.
The Austin metropolitan area is just over 2 million and remains the largest city in the country without a major sports franchise.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said the league is reluctant to see one of the original franchises move, but has also backed Precourt’s desire to look for a new home. Before Precourt announced his intention to move, MLS had trademarked Austin FC and Austin Athletic as possible names for a franchise even though the city was not among those cities that had applied for expansion.
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