MLS in Austin has inched closer to reality after two resolutions were passed by the Austin City Council very early Friday morning. Here are five things to consider as an Aug. 9 deadline approaches.
1. MLS in Austin inches forward
Austin City Council meetings have a history of running deep into the night, but Thursday's session might have topped them all. However, at 3:49 a.m. on Friday, a resolution was passed that begins the process of negotiation between Columbus Crew SC ownership group Precourt Sports Ventures and the City of Austin to build a privately funded stadium at the McKalla Place site, which would serve as the home of relocated MLS franchise Columbus Crew SC.
This is a positive development for Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt, but he would be wise to refrain from popping any champagne bottles. In the same meeting, the Austin City Council also passed a resolution that solicits additional plans for the development of the McKalla Place site, giving two other developers who have expressed an interest in that property for non-soccer use -- and unlike PSV, who would own the land and pay property taxes -- the chance to offer up their best proposals.
The council has now set Aug. 9 as the deadline on a final decision, which is not ideal for PSV time-wise but does keep it in the running. Yet there is still a lot of work to do on PSV's end, something made abundantly clear by council member Alison Alter, who called PSV's current proposal "not good enough."
2. What Austin wants
"I don't represent the people of Columbus, I represent the people of Austin," chuckled Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan to ESPN FC via phone earlier this week. Such has been the life for council members who have been inundated with messages from people not only in Austin but also in the Ohio capital in attempts to sway opinion.
This was never going to be an easy process. PSV's initial wish for a downtown stadium was miscalculated -- there is no room -- and its second choice of developing land on one of the city's parks was never going to come to fruition, either.
PSV appears to have misread the dynamics of Austin politics, and it was only on Thursday night that many in the city of Austin actually heard Precourt speak in public for the first time. Nevertheless, it appears PSV has gotten it right with McKalla Place, assuming its final proposal includes among other things at least 130 units of affordable housing, investment in a MetroRail stop near the stadium (estimated cost: $13 million) and other eco-friendly considerations.
"My decision comes down to public benefit no matter what type of project it is on public land. There are benefits to large-venue spaces, but we want to make sure those benefit the community. They are the first priority," Flannigan said. "If the deal they have handed out at present was their final one, I'd say no, but they have a chance to improve it."
3. And Columbus?
From afar, Columbus has watched with interest as things have developed between PSV and Austin over the past eight months. Alex Fischer, president and CEO of Columbus 2020, an economic-development organization for the 11-county Columbus region, sees a pattern of behavior developing between PSV and Austin similar to the one those in Columbus experienced.
"It is strikingly eerie," Fischer told ESPN FC. "The approach style is similar: demands, disjointed communication and an inability to generate collaboration."
While things continue to play out in Austin, Columbus is not about to give up. It's simply focused on what it can control, working with government leaders and local investors to try to purchase the team. If anything, PSV's desire to leave for Austin will serve Columbus in the future.
"For too long we accepted lackluster behavior from ownership and management," Fischer said. "You have to give trust to earn trust. Upon reflection you could see it was a one-way street. We take those lessons moving forward."
4. PSV's inconvenient truth
Professional soccer is coming to Austin in 2019. Whether that includes MLS remains to be seen, but what's certain is that a USL franchise will begin play next year, potentially giving the Texas capital two professional soccer teams in the near future.
Austin's USL team is led by Bobby Epstein, co-owner of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), the home of Austin's Formula One race and also a local concert venue. The Austin Monitor revealed this week that PSV and Epstein held meetings to discuss using COTA as a potential stadium site, but talks never advanced due to PSV's unwillingness to pay property taxes.
Twice Austin has experienced failure with USL teams, and the fact that Epstein's squad would be competing in town against an MLS franchise makes for long odds for Austin USL 3.0. Still, it is a pain PSV would prefer not to have.
5. See you in court
On top of everything else, there is still the matter of the lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio against PSV and MLS in an attempt to keep Crew SC in Columbus. An appeal to dismiss the lawsuit was denied, so there is still some lawyering up to be done on PSV's side. It is something that has also garnered little attention thus far in Austin and perhaps could affect the final decision to be made Aug. 9.
There's more to consider. In Austin, local attorney Bill Aleshire is threatening to sue the city over the legality of using McKalla Place as a soccer stadium site. Aleshire claims that the development of a stadium would violate laws established when the city used water-utility bonds to buy McKalla Place, a former toxic waste dump, in 1995.
A preliminary injunction could further delay the purchase of McKalla Place, which would be a huge setback for PSV and MLS.