AUSTIN, Texas — Austin FC’s stadium is still a little more than 18 months from completion, but it’s now officially underway.
At a groundbreaking ceremony Monday, Austin FC CEO Anthony Precourt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler celebrated what they’d worked together to deliver: A 20,500-seat, $242 million soccer-specific stadium, privately funded and built on City of Austin-owned land.
At the ceremony, Precourt and Adler were joined by Major League Soccer president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, who attended in MLS commissioner Don Garber’s stead, as well as investors Eddie Margain and Matthew McConaughey, and fan Alba Mendoza in making comments before the actual shovels-in-dirt moment.
“What a day,” exclaimed Precourt in his news conference at the site after the event. “It’s just a beautiful sight to see some Caterpillar tractors here at McKalla Place.”
McKalla Place is the 24-acre tract of land in north Austin where the stadium will be constructed. At an earlier “state of the stadium” event last month, the club announced an April 2021 finish date for the stadium.
Though Precourt still didn’t have a set date for when Austin FC would play its first home match, he did say the club will be prepared to take the initial part of the inaugural 2021 season on the road, similarly to LAFC prior to opening Banc of California Stadium last year.
“This is a magical and special city that we’re in. We’re known around the world as the Live Music Capital. We’re known around the world as the city that invented and perfected breakfast tacos,” Adler said, nodding to an ongoing rivalry with San Antonio. “But soon, we will be the city that will be known as the home of Austin FC.”
McConaughey, who embodied Texas’s agonizing defeat to LSU on Saturday for national TV audiences with sideline reactions throughout the game, is stepping into a “Minister of Culture” role with Austin FC similar to one he has with UT’s football program.
McConaughey said, “This will be home to Austin FC. This will be home to events large and small, home to the young and the old, home to people who have dreams that are going to come to life, to fueling hope, to some agonizing defeats, but home to even more thrilling victories.”
As he did during the event two weeks ago to announce his investment in the club, McConaughey led an impromptu branding session, pondering the question “What’s the trunk of our tree?” The goal was to think about both the oak tree employed in the Austin FC crest and the symbolic foundation that a stadium will provide the team, front office and fans.
“It was an amazing day,” said Jorge Chavez, a member of the Austin FC supporters’ group Austin Anthem. “Even the weather cooperated in what will be the start of bringing the community together, sporting or otherwise.”
Fellow Anthem member Alex Rubio added, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see the birth of a football club, much less be witness to something special coming to life.”
About 2,000 people have joined the supporters’ group, according to the organization’s president, Josh Babetski. Nearly 50 of its most active members came to the groundbreaking to showcase a few of their fledgling chants. Adler acknowledged their presence, noting that a number of them were part of marathon City Council meetings leading up to the vote that authorized Austin’s city manager to move forward with Austin FC on negotiations for the stadium construction.
Precourt said the stadium is all systems go, with the club and city working together through the permitting process and traffic studies en route to stadium completion.
There will be a referendum on Austin’s ballot in November, Proposition A, that came out of efforts from stadium opponents to put the city’s deal with Austin FC to a public vote. However, both Precourt and Adler believe that the proposition can’t affect the stadium because it can’t be applied retroactively.
Fair Play Austin, the political action committee that pushed for getting the proposition on the ballot, publicly pulled support for Proposition A last month after expressing disagreement with how the city worded the proposition’s ballot language.