The Austin City Council early Friday took the next step in helping Precourt Sports Ventures zero in on a soccer stadium site in Austin, unanimously passing a resolution instructing the city manager to complete a community engagement process and detailed site analysis of by June 1.
The 24-acre, city-owned site in north Austin was identified as PSV’s latest focus earlier this month after facing vocal community opposition to two of its top-choice sites, Butler Shores Metropolitan Park and Roy G. Guerrero Park.
The resolution indicates McKalla Place could be “well-poised for a soccer stadium site due to its size, proximal commercial activity, accessibility and the potential for employment opportunities.” It asks for an analysis of direct and indirect benefits as well as opportunity costs associated with the location. One opportunity cost that has come up in discussions of McKalla Place is affordable housing, the original plan for the city-owned site.
Former Travis County auditor Susan Spataro told the council that a decision on McKalla Place comes down to either embracing affordable housing or soccer.
“Our poor people, they don’t have lobbyists, they don’t have PR firms (like PSV),” she said. “These people need you to think about them.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo mentioned the possibility of a tract on Bolm Road in east Austin being used for affordable housing in the event a soccer stadium agreement is secured at McKalla Place.
In a Tuesday Austin City Council work session, Councilmember Alison Alter said she received feedback on Precourt Sports Ventures’ “Commitment to the Community” letter from Stanford Professor Roger Noll.
PSV claimed in the four-page letter, issued last Tuesday, that a Major League Soccer team at McKalla Place will generate $326 million in public benefit over the next 25 years, including jobs, charitable donations and the creation of an academy program, benefits hammered home by several MLS in Austin supporters who spoke at Thursday’s meeting.
Others, including Lee Nichols of the North Austin Soccer Alliance, said that while they are in support of MLS coming to Austin, they want to ensure those benefits extend to low-cost recreational soccer opportunities that increase access to the game.
Noll’s research in recent years has shown sports stadiums do not spur economic growth, and he made a similar argument in his letter to Alter published to the Austin City Council message board on Wednesday, laying out in general terms the business and employment opportunity costs of building a soccer stadium in Austin.
“The principal (and, usually, only) community benefit from attracting a major league sports franchise to a community is the direct benefit to local sports fans of having a local team,” Noll wrote. “Stadiums can contribute to the community beyond being simply another entertainment option only if the plans for the stadium and its operations are integrated into the long-term development plans of the surrounding neighborhood in which the stadium is located.”
Alter said Tuesday at the work session that wanting to add an analysis of opportunity costs to the resolution was not a message not to have MLS come to Austin. Instead, it expressed her desire to have all the facts in an important decision. She reiterated that point Thursday.
“We need to have real data as we make this decision. This is not just on our staff to be providing,” Alter said. “If Precourt wants to come to Austin, they need to do their part in getting us what we need in providing real numbers and really step up to the plate as we move into this new stage.”
PSV has said it would privately finance a $200 million stadium in Austin given an appropriate site. Tovo said during the Thursday meeting she would not support the sale of McKalla Place to PSV and instead sees a long-term lease as a viable solution.
Austin City Council has just two June meetings — June 14 and June 28 — and is off for the month of July, adding importance to the city manager’s June 1 report date.
Richard Suttle, PSV’s lobbyist in Austin, said PSV welcomes the scrutiny, studies and analysis that will come as part of the resolution. He also thanked the council for the June 1 deadline.
“In order to be playing (in Austin) in March of (2019), the team has to move the team, move the back office, find a place to practice, find a permanent place to practice, find a place to temporarily play and all of that only happens once we are able to say we have a site that’ll work,” Suttle said. “We look forward to working with you (city council) and your staff over the next several months and analyzing all of the things. Hopefully McKalla can be the site for the Major League Soccer team.”
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