Signatures from a petition spurred by the Austin FC stadium deal have been validated, but the club contends that an impending referendum will not affect the agreement.
In December, the City of Austin and Anthony Precourt’s Precourt Sports Ventures announced the terms of an agreement that allows the construction of a stadium at the city-owned McKalla Place in time for the 2021 MLS season. Under the terms of the deal, PSV will privately finance the $225-million stadium, with the facility to fall under city ownership. PSV would not pay property taxes, but instead enter into a 20-year lease with the city for $1 for the first five years before rent payments jump to $550,000 beginning in year six.
That agreement prompted backlash in some circles, and the group Friends of McKalla Place submitted over 29,000 signatures last month calling for a public referendum. The referendum would ask voters to approve an 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. Enough signatures have been validated that the Austin City Council will now have to decide whether to adopt the ordinance outright within 10 days or–in the more likely scenario–authorize it as a question on a voter ballot later this year.
The prospect of a referendum later this year has certainly increased, but PSV contends that the ordinance would not apply to its agreement because it has already been signed. More from the Austin American-Statesman:
“Major League Soccer can be great for Austin, but only if our city’s leaders play fair,” said Chris Lippincott, spokesman for Fair Play Austin, the political action committee set up to promote the petition. “The Austin City Council should not be picking winners and losers, and local taxpayers should not be subsidizing a private and very profitable enterprise.”
In a statement posted on Austin FC’s website, Precourt Sports Ventures said the petition ordinance does not apply to the stadium deal because it has already been signed and site plans for the stadium have been submitted.
“Neither the petition nor a possible election impact Major League Soccer coming to Austin in March 2021,” the statement said. “Austin FC is already a part of this community. The City Council approved lease for McKalla Place is signed, and the site plan has been filed.”
In either case, it seems that the Austin FC stadium deal will prompt a conversation about how the city should handle similar agreements going forward. Austin FC is expected to break ground on the stadium later this year, with the facility opening in 2021.
Precourt had previously attempted to move Columbus Crew SC to Austin as early as this year, but an arrangement eventually emerged that allowed Jimmy and Dee Haslam–owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns–and the Columbus-based Edwards family to buy into MLS and receive operating rights to Columbus. Precourt remained an MLS investor and received rights to Austin, where Austin FC will begin play as MLS’s 27th team in 2021.
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