Best of 2019, #7: MLS Stadium Planning in Austin, Columbus

Austin FC stadium rendering August 2019

We end 2019 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #7: Planning new stadiums for Austin FC and Columbus Crew SC.

As 2018 drew to a close, a plan had emerged to solidify the future of Columbus Crew SC in Ohio’s capital city while allowing a new Austin MLS stadium and team to move forward. A group led by Jimmy and Dee Haslam–owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns–and the Columbus-based Edwards family bought into MLS and received operating rights to Columbus. Meanwhile, former Crew investor-operator Anthony Precourt, who had previously sought to relocate the club, remained an MLS investor and proceeded with plans in Austin. With new stadiums in both markets a part of those plans, the clarification of Austin and Columbus’s futures was our number one story of 2018, setting the tone for a busy 2019 in those cities.

For Austin, 2019 was marked by the official approval of Austin FC as the league’s 27th team and the launch of construction on a new stadium for the 2021 season. Under terms that were struck with the city, a privately financed stadium will be constructed on the city-owned McKalla Place in North Austin. The facility would be owned by the city, with the club to enter into a 20-year lease that calls for rent payments of $550,000 annually beginning in year six. Although there continued to be some pushback against the plan earlier this year, Austin FC was able to move forward with a September groundbreaking ceremony for the stadium and is on track to complete it in time for the 2021 season.

In the meantime, early signs in the form of season-ticket membership deposits point to there being strong support for the team once it begins play. Additionally, Austin FC unveiled plans for a $45-million training facility–St. David’s Performance Center–that is expected to be completed in time for the club’s 2021 launch.

New Columbus Crew Stadium rendering

Meanwhile, progress was also made in Columbus on plans for a new stadium in the city’s Arena District (rendering directly above). The Crew broke ground on the new $300-million stadium in October, and is moving forward with those plans as part of a public-private partnership worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Crew has expected that the stadium will open in the summer of 2021. When it does open, the stadium will add to an area of Columbus that already features several professional sports facilities, including Huntington Park–home of Minor League Baseball’s Columbus Clippers (Class AAA; International League)–and Nationwide Arena. It is also anticipated that the stadium will be the anchor of a surrounding mixed-use development known as Confluence Village. Officials have been planning for the Crew’s current home, MAPFRE Stadium, to be redeveloped as part of a plan that includes training space for the organization and a community sports park.

A solution that sees new stadiums in Columbus and Austin was one that was developed through many twists and turns, and has required careful in planning in both cities. This year, though, saw those stadium projects make progress, clarifying the future of MLS in both cities.

Austin FC Stadium rendering courtesy Gensler. Columbus stadium tendering courtesy Columbus Crew SC.

Here’s the rest of our Top Ten of 2019:

Best of 2019, #8: The Makeover of Chicago Fire

Best of 2019, #9: Breese Stevens Field Shines in USL League One Debut

Best of 2019, #10: Pawtucket USL Stadium Proposal Unveiled

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August Publications