Judge Sets 90-Day Toll in Columbus Crew SC Lawsuit

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A Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge has issued a series of orders for the ongoing Columbus Crew SC lawsuit, including a key 90-day pause. 

The State of Ohio and City of Columbus have sued the Crew and MLS, with the suit stemming from the team’s exploration of a move to Austin. In the case, the plaintiffs are citing an Art Modell-inspired state law to block the team from moving. That law is designed to prevent the relocation of a professional sports franchise that has accepted public funding for a facility. One of its key points stipulates that, in order to move, a franchise must first provide six months notice and the opportunity for local investors to buy the team.

A previous request from Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein asked for a pause on the six-month notice period. An order on Tuesday from judge Jeffrey Brown grants the pause, but sets it at 90 days. In addition, Brown outlined a process in which prospective local investors can privately pitch offers to purchase the club. More from The Columbus Dispatch:

The 90-day pause, or “toll” in legal parlance, comes at Klein’s request. He had argued that Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer have been vague about when the six months’ notice was given and when they could claim it was over. Despite Klein wanting a six-month toll, Brown set it at 90 days and said a decision on when the six-month period began would come later and that it would resume from that point once the toll was lifted.

But Brown has several items he wants completed in the interim. He will meet separately with each side in the next 21 days to determine how to identify legitimate attempts to purchase the team locally. Before then, he wants the sides to determine for themselves how to fashion a nondisclosure agreement and what information needs to be disclosed to determine the value of the team.

“Negotiations between the parties for settlement of this case, with the assistance of this Court, shall continue during the 90-day tolling period ordered herein,” Brown wrote in his 19-page order. “Any bona fide purchaser(s)′ offer shall be submitted directly to this Court under seal, and such offers will then be provided to counsel as received.”

In the case of MAPFRE Stadium–which originally opened as Columbus Crew Stadium in 1999– the facility itself was privately financed, but the team has accepted free land, below-market leases and parking improvements. That was a sticking point in a motion to dismiss last month from the club and MLS, as defendants argued that MLS’s single-entity structure makes the league–not Anthony Precourt’s PSV–the team’s owner. Brown has decided to hold off on issuing a ruling on that motion.

Precourt Sports Ventures is still exploring a move of the Crew to Austin, and is working to present a stadium plan to Austin officials by June 1. The city-owned McKalla Place is being explored as the site of a new stadium, which would be privately financed. While PSV is seeking to move the Crew to Austin as early as 2019, no final decision has been made as to whether the club will actually relocate. If it does relocate to Austin before a new stadium is built, the club would likely play home matches at an existing venue in the area until construction is complete.

Image courtesy MAPFRE Stadium. 

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