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Austin City Council vote could clear path for Columbus Crew relocation to Texas

The Austin City Council will vote on a proposal that would help ease the relocation of the Columbus Crew to Texas despite fan protests in Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

After a series of twists and turns in a now 10-month-old Columbus Crew relocation saga, the Austin City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on a proposal that would give Crew investor-operators Precourt Sports Ventures a pathway to move to Austin for the 2019 MLS season.

The vote, as reported by ProSoccerUSA last Thursday, would allow PSV to construct a 20,000-seat soccer specific stadium on a 24-acre tract of City of Austin-owned land known as McKalla Place. If the proposal passes, PSV would aim to build the stadium by 2021, turn ownership over to the city of Austin and rent it.

The vote, which had been scheduled for last Thursday’s City Council meeting, was postponed until the special Wednesday morning session after 2 ½ hours of spirited public testimony from supporters and opponents of the PSV proposal.

That delay was necessary, in part, to allow the 11-member Austin City Council time to review 26 amendments to the existing term sheet, forwarded by six of its members during last Thursday’s meeting. That includes six from Council Member Leslie Pool, who has consistently challenged the city partnering with PSV. During Thursday’s meeting, Mayor Steve Adler — who has advocated for bringing MLS to Austin — went as far as to warn the Council that some of Pool’s amendments might be “poison pills designed to kill the deal.”

Pool traveled to Columbus on the eve of the vote, as first reported by the Columbus Dispatch, meeting Monday evening with leaders of the Columbus-based Save the Crew group, which has voiced opposition to Precourt and the proposed move since he announced it last October.

She told the Dispatch’s Andrew Erickson she made the Ohio trip “to see what the actual impacts are on the families who have built their lives around soccer in this town,” adding that “the pitting city against city piece has been bothering me.”

She echoed her thoughts about “pitting city against city” in a post to a City of Austin online forum Tuesday evening, comparing it to the bidding process for Amazon’s second headquarters (which she criticized in a New York Times article last week), and repeating an allegation that Precourt’s deadlines are “arbitrary” despite the fact that the 2019 MLS season is just eight months from kickoff.

“I’m disappointed to see one of our own elected officials travel to Columbus so close to the vote, rather than staying and working with her constituents,” said Andrew Urban of the MLS in Austin group advocating for bringing the league to Texas’ capital city.

“Austin is a city that people and companies want to be in, and we believe MLS is no different,” Urban added. “The support we’ve seen from all parts of Austin throughout this process has been inspiring. This city is excited about MLS and ready to get started.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the city released PSV’s responses to the 26 amendments, which notably included agreeing to Council Member Delia Garza’s call for over $3.6 million to fund bus and transit facilities for the City’s Capital Metro transit authority, as well as specifying support for girls’ as well as boys’ youth soccer programs — two issues emerging in recent weeks as vital to securing votes from key Council 

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, considered a swing vote on this issue, unfavorably compared aspects of the City Council’s process to “an M. Night Shyamalan movie,” and noted, “I’m ready to see this deal closed tomorrow, up or down.”

“A lot of my thought process here is to ensure that what we’ve voting on is ultimately a deal that pencils out,” noting that he’s cognizant of how certain proposed amendments could function to scuttle the deal as Adler described. “If we end up in a deal that’s not a deal, it actually won’t matter how you vote because it won’t be a thing. I want to make sure that what we’re deliberating is actually substantive.”

“Looking at this vote, and the actions of some of my colleagues, it’s a real headscratcher,” he added. “What city do you actually represent, and whose constituents are your constituents?”

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