Austin councilmember says Crew stadium “massive giveaway,” team owner acting like “used-car salesman”

With the official debate over an Austin MLS stadium to lure the relocated Columbus Crew about to kick off, it’s only one city council member who has publicly come out to say it would be a bad deal — but that one has done so in no uncertain terms:

After a detailed review with her staff, [Leslie Pool] said, the plan “doesn’t pencil out.”

“It looks like a massive giveaway,” Pool said. “Precourt Sports Ventures, they don’t want to pay property taxes but they want the city to cover most of the cost for them without any revenue to pay for it, which we could get from the property taxes.”

That’s not exactly how I’d put it — the city wouldn’t be covering “most of the cost,” though it would definitely be forgoing both property taxes and any share of stadium revenue, both of which are things the people of Austin really think the city should be getting. But Pool did go on to say that the Crew owners “want all the benefit from it — the gate fees, the merchandise, concessions, advertising, you name it — and they don’t want to pay property taxes and [want to] keep all the revenue,” which is dead on, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for misspeaking in the “most of the cost thing.

Team president Dave Greeley immediately responded with a backhanded-placating statement that said while the owners “respect all of the process” and would understand if Pool wants to put the proposed stadium property up for open bidding, “the reality is that there is time sensitivity attached to this,” and maybe there could at least be a memorandum of understanding by the end of June to, you know, create some momentum that would be too hard to undo even if another bidder came in with a better offer? (Greeley didn’t directly say the “creating momentum” thing, but you know he was thinking it.) To which Pool responded:

“That’s a time-honored approach for a used-car salesman. ‘This car isn’t going to be here at this price tomorrow.’ I’m constitutionally reluctant to be pushed like that. … That’s not how a governmental entity should be making policy or decisions for the taxpayers.”

I’d offer to send Councilmember Pool a copy of Field of Schemes, but I feel like she’s already read it.

Poll of Austin voters finds they want soccer stadium to pay property taxes and rent and share revenue; poll of Crew owner finds he don’t wanna pay none of that

With Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt having set a June 30 deadline for the city of Austin to approve a stadium deal so he can relocate his soccer team — you’d think that a guy who has his heart set on moving to one particular city wouldn’t be in a position to set ultimatums, but as we’ve seen, arbitrary deadlines are an integral part of the stadium game — things are starting to heat up in the stadium-proposal-mulling department:

  • A report released by the city of Austin on Friday has ruled that Precourt’s preferred location at McKalla Place is “a suitable site for a Major League Soccer stadium,” while also evaluating how it would work for a mixed-use development that would include affordable housing — which came down to we don’t have time to fully study this, but we could if you want. It also estimated that preparing infrastructure for the site would cost about $16 million for soccer (vs. $30 million for the housing plan), noting that “typically the City would request the developer to pay for these costs but the sharing of those costs can be negotiated through a public-private partnership.”
  • An accompanying economic impact study by Brailsford & Dunlavey found that the stadium would provide a net present value of $16.8 million in new tax revenues over its lifetime, assuming that 50% of soccer ticket buyers were from within Austin, 40% traveled in just for the game from outside Austin, and 10% were visitors who stayed overnight — numbers that B&D apparently made up out of whole cloth, or at least if there’s a reason behind them, it’s not in their report. Also not in the report: any analysis of the economic impact of an alternative use of the land, such as for a mixed-use development.
  • Also on Friday, Precourt issued the latest iteration of his stadium proposal, which is heavy on photos featuring soccer boots and fans being bathed in confetti, but if you dig way down to page 155 includes the detail that Precourt would pay to build the stadium and would then donate it to the city, which sounds generous except when you consider that then Precourt would get out of paying property taxes on the land. Precourt would pay only $1 a year rent over the course of a 20-year lease, and would collect “all naming rights, sponsorship, and advertising revenue within the Stadium Site,” though at lest he would also be responsible for “all capital repairs, replacements, and improvements” to the stadium over the course of the lease.
  • An online survey of 600 likely Austin voters found that 43% think Precourt should purchase private land, and only 19% think he should use public land; 83% think the city should charge fair market value for any public land used; 87% think Precourt should have to pay property taxes; 84% think the city should get some revenue from stadium events; and 83% think Precourt should pay for infrastructure costs of a new stadium. In other words, likely Austin voters overwhelmingly oppose pretty much everything about this deal.

The Austin city council has two work sessions and two public meetings scheduled in June before Precourt’s self-imposed deadline; they clearly have their work cut out for them.

Columbus Crew owner reveals Austin stadium plans, can’t even come up with generic rendering

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has revealed preliminary designs for his proposed new soccer stadium in Austin, and, and … and:

To quote the guy in the back row at my showing of Avengers: Infinity War when the end credits were rolling, “What the fuck was that?” A stadium vaportecture plan is supposed to have swooping architecture and happy clip-art fans and fireworks — oh, so many fireworks — whereas this, this is the Austin American-Statesman art department taking a Google Earth image, applying a “lighten 50%” filter in Photoshop, and then drawing some rectangles on it to represent a stadium. And for this, Precourt gets a feature article in the newspaper.

Things were so bad that even stadium supporters felt obligated to note that the presentation was a bit on the disappointing side:

City Council Member Kathie Tovo noted that there wasn’t much information in the site plan but likes parts of what she saw.

“The three access points are a real positive,” Tovo said. “There are walkways and a parklike feel, and I’m encouraged that the Precourt group is thinking about ways the site can benefit the community.”

This is what journalism has come to: Guy seeking to move soccer team to Austin suggests that roads lead there from three different directions. I know the newspaper business is desperate right now, but I don’t actually think that more people are going to start picking up the American-Statesman to read the soccer box scores, if that’s the plan here.

Columbus Crew owner sets end of June as Austin stadium deadline-ish-esque thingy

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt is shooting to finalize a new stadium deal in Austin in June, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Or, well, not actually finalize per se, but maybe preliminarize:

Although June is not considered a drop-dead deadline for a deal, PSV officials said that some kind of agreement, such as a letter of intent, needs to be reached with the city by the end of next month. After a June 28 meeting, the City Council takes a summer break until Aug. 9. PSV aims to move the club by the start of 2019.

This isn’t actually much of a revelation at all, then — we’re gonna propose something in June, either approve it or don’t — but now that Precourt has picked out the city-owned land that he’s decided he wants but maybe doesn’t want to pay for, it does serve as a kind of two-minute warning, to let the Austin city council know that if nothing gets done by June 28, then … something. Something bad. And we know it’s working, because the American-Statesman summed things up with this one-line paragraph:

The clock is ticking.

That’s just what clocks do, man!

Friday roundup: Spending on training facilities is a bad idea, Portland seeks MLB team, Jays game postponed after roof hit by falling ice

I can’t believe none of you wrote in to ask why I hadn’t reported on a Toronto Blue Jays game getting postponed due to falling ice puncturing a hole in the stadium roof, but I guess you’re all acclimated to waiting for the Friday roundup now for that sort of thing. But wait no longer! (Well, wait a few bullet points for that one in particular.)

Precourt picks Austin stadium site, mum on whether he’ll pay city for it

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has settled on a preferred site for his proposed Austin soccer stadium, and it’s McKalla Place, a 24-acre former chemical dump that looks like this:

On first glance, that certainly seems like the kind of unwanted property that is the perfect place to dump a soccer stadium. Except that it’s owned by the city, and already targeted for future development, and there’s no indication Precourt is willing to pay market value for the land:

“I’ve been pushing for private land, but public land keeps the city in the conversation,” said [councilmember Leslie] Pool, whose District 7 includes McKalla Place. “I’d rather see practice fields at McKalla and the stadium somewhere else.

“I’m open to it. I’m agreeable to participating in the analysis. I just don’t want to be taken to the bank.”

The week before last, Precourt declared that a new stadium would bring $400 million in economic benefits over the next 25 years, “in the form of community investments, park improvements, soccer wellness and programming, wages and construction services, among others” — a statement that was widely derided, especially after Precourt refused to provide details on it other than to say that “we have a spreadsheet that breaks it down and line-itemizes it” but that he wasn’t going to release yet.

As we’ve seen lately, free land is the flavor of the month when it comes to stadium subsidy deals, so Pool is right to be skeptical until Precourt provides more details. The site has road and rail access, but needs things like sidewalks, and Pool says any infrastructure should be on Precourt: “Every dollar and penny in community benefit needs to come back to the community. Let’s have staff do the analysis. If it turns out to be a great idea, I’ll be all for it.” Words to live by!

Friday roundup: Crew claps back at Modell Law suit, Cincy mayor thinks his citizens are dumb, Wrigley Field is a construction zone again

This week brought thundersnow that led to a fireball in a subway tunnel, but the stadium and arena news was reasonably exciting too:

  • Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt says the lawsuit to force him to offer the team for sale to local owners before moving it to Austin is groundless, since he made “significant investments” in the team “both on and off the field” and yet the team isn’t making money hand over fist like he’d like it to. I would have gone with “fine, you can buy the team if you want, my asking price is one quattuordecillion dollars,” but that’s why Precourt pays himself the big bucks.
  • Oakland Raiders management says it has identified room for 27,000 parking spaces within 1.5 miles of its Las Vegas stadium, and 100,000 spaces within three miles. “Now, obviously, people don’t want to walk three miles, so you have to have a pretty strong infrastructure program and transportation plan in place,” said Raiders president Marc Badain. “We’re working on all of that.” Cool, get back to us!
  • Residents of the West End opposed to building an F.C. Cincinnati soccer stadium on the site of a revered high school football stadium there are all about “maintaining disinvestment, maintaining the status quo and not closing racial and economic gaps but keeping them divided,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said this week. “I think that’s wrong.” But enough with the pandering to your constituents, Mayor Cranley what do you really think about them?
  • Because no arena project can truly be cost-free for the public, the new Muni Metro stop being built at the Golden State Warriors‘ new San Francisco arena has now risen in cost to $51 million, and the city of San Francisco hasn’t figured out how to pay for $17 million of that yet. Not that a new mass transit stop isn’t a public benefit for people other than Warriors fans, but just saying.
  • This is what Wrigley Field looked like as of a couple of weeks ago. There’s still time before opening day, so hopefully this renovation will go better than the Chicago Cubslast big one.
  • Does an “asteroid the size of a sports stadium” zooming past Earth count as stadium news? It does to my custom RSS feed for “stadium” news, so enjoy!

Ohio AG and Columbus sue under “Modell law” to block Crew’s move to Austin

And away we go: Three months after hinting he’d sue to block Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt from relocating his team to Austin, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has joined with the city of Columbus to do just that, under the “Art Modell Law” passed after the Cleveland Browns owner decamped for Baltimore that requires sports owners to offer their teams up for sale to local investors before moving them out of state:

DeWine argues that the Crew accepted $5 million in state taxpayer-funded improvements to their parking lot, tax exemptions for MAPFRE Stadium, a “well below market rate lease” on state-owned land, and other reimbursements.

According to the lawsuit, a 1996 statute in the Ohio Revised Code “prohibits these owners from moving their teams elsewhere unless they give at least six months advance notice of the intention to move and give the city, an individual, or group of individuals, who live in the area an opportunity to purchase the teams.”

All of the above is true: The Crew did get state subsidies for their stadium, and the Modell law does prohibit that! As I noted when DeWine first brought this up, though, there are still two big issues:

  • The Modell law just says local buyers have to be given “the opportunity to purchase the team,” not that the seller has to agree to a fair market price or anything. Which, sure, I guess a clever lawyer can argue that “You may buy my team for 200 squillion dollars” isn’t really an “opportunity,” but that’s a lot less cut and dried than one might like.
  • The statute doesn’t include a penalty clause, so it’s unclear what the state could do if Precourt thumbed his nose at the court and moved to Austin anyway.

A way more interesting case might be if Columbus tried to use eminent domain laws to condemn the Crew franchise and seize it as a public good that’s being endangered — eminent domain has been successfully used for dumber reasons than that, and while eminent domain seizure attempts failed in the Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders cases, there’s reason to believe that those instances didn’t set a firm legal precedent. (In the case of the Colts, it was ruled they’d already left town hours before the suit was filed, so there was nothing left to seize control of.) Since no one seems interested in that option, though, the Modell law is an interesting Plan B — even if there are a lot of steps between this and actually forcing the Crew to remain in town, if there’s even a chance that it makes relocation problematic enough that Precourt decides to stay, any statute in a storm, right?

Columbus Crew owner pushes back Austin stadium site decision three more months

The city of Austin and Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt have agreed to a three-month delay from a planned Feb. 15 council vote on selecting a site for a new soccer stadium, which, guys, this really isn’t going to be ready for a relocation for 2019, and maybe not even for 2020. So either the Crew are looking at multiple lame-duck seasons in Columbus, or playing at the University of Texas’s soccer field, or … wait, why can’t they play at UT’s field anyway?

Or the Crew could just stay put in Columbus, where it has a sweetheart lease deal on a reasonably new stadium and a fan base that isn’t speculative, at least. I still don’t understand Precourt’s obsession with Austin — maybe he didn’t hear that Dean Schlabowske moved back to Milwaukee?

Friday roundup: Islanders close to Nassau deal, Olympic stadium to be razed after four uses, and it’s rethink your MLS stadium site week!

And in other stadium and arena news this week:

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!