Questions Arise About Austin MLS Stadium Petition

Austin FC stadium

Since it was filed last week, questions have been raised about an Austin MLS stadium petition–including when it could reach the ballot, and whether it affects a signed agreement. 

In response to an agreement between the City of Austin and Anthony Precourt’s Precourt Sports Ventures to construct a new stadium at the city-owned McKalla Place, the group Friends of McKalla Place has submitted 29,000 signatures for a ballot item. If enough of those signatures are certified by the city, they could trigger a referendum on a proposed ordinance that calls for voter approval of any agreement to build a sports facility or concert venue on city-owned land while making operators pay taxes on the facilities.

The petition has run into a few questions, one of which being if it could actually negate the agreement between PSV and the city. Representatives for PSV have expressed skepticism that it would, pointing out that the deal has already been signed. The city, meanwhile, does not believe that its charter permits a May referendum. According to the city, its charter stipulates a six-month waiting period between referendums. The November 6 ballot included two petition items, which would make the Friends of McKalla Place petition ineligible for a May 4 election. More from the Austin Monitor:

“We tried to do the math a few different ways to get them within that six-month window to get them to the election … we couldn’t do it,” [city spokesman David] Green said. “We can’t do it with 180 days, we can’t do it at six months or 365 divided by two; rounding down, rounding up, we just couldn’t make it happen with the way general elections fall.”

That position likely means the certified petitions would result in a November election, creating questions about how effective it would be in short-circuiting the stadium deal, terms of which were approved by a 7-4 City Council vote over the summer. That drew loud criticism from some residents near the McKalla Place site, in part because the deal with Precourt Sports Ventures, the group behind a Major League Soccer franchise destined for Austin, didn’t include a request-for-proposal process that is typically used for city parcels.

Friends of McKalla Place is a loosely organized group that took up the petition campaign started in the fall by the activist group IndyAustin, which bowed out following controversy that its messaging on the stadium issue included anti-Semitic themes.

“It’s an old story in Austin, that people come here and want to make a lot of money. I understand that and it’s a great town to do that, but they want to get around the rules,” said Craig Nazor, a resident of the Gracywoods neighborhood near the stadium site and thus far the only Friends of McKalla Place member to speak publicly.

The agreement between the city and PSV calls for the $225-million stadium to be privately financed, but fall under city ownership. PSV would not pay property taxes, but instead lease the stadium from the city and make annual rent payments of $550,000 beginning in year six of a 20-year lease, with the facility slated to open in 2021.

A clause in the agreement between the city and PSV does provide leeway when it comes to referendums, as either party could terminate the deal if it believes that an initiative would undermine the stadium plans. Still, with the questions surrounding the petition and the timing of an election–if the signatures are indeed certified by the city clerk’s office–it remains to be seen what effect if any this push has on the stadium.

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