This time there was no last minute new term sheet, no glaring omission from Another Precourt or his hired guns, no setting a new deadline months in the future. A long and protracted discussion of various amendments and land use issues sent the vote on Precourt Sports Venture’s proposed McKalla Place stadium term sheet with Austin far past the Council’s self-appointed 11:30 a.m. CT deadline. But, the Austin City Council was ultimately satisfied with the deal and voted 7-4 to approve the negotiation and execution of a stadium contract with PSV and Major League Soccer.
The vote was supposed to happen during last week’s Austin City Council meeting. But, that meeting was open to public comment and was the Council’s first opportunity to review a new term sheet released by PSV less than 24 hours prior. Add in the multiple amendments that would be suggested by the various Council Members and the vote was pushed to August 15.
Yesterday’s meeting, despite pushing far past the artificial voting deadline, was largely devoid of the controversy and chaos that has plagued PSV’s attempt to relocate to Austin. There were long discussions on whether the McKalla Place site was a protected wetland and on the location’s watershed, but no great “blunders” by PSV. In fact, PSV’s lack of support for women’s soccer was barely mentioned after being a major point of contention last week.
Despite the efforts of Council Member Leslie Pool, who made a quick trip to Columbus to speak with Crew fans, none of the “poison pill” amendments passed. PSV’s rent will stay at $550,000 per year (starting in the sixth year of the lease).
A last second effort to remove the phrase “and execute” from the agreement failed by the same 7-4 margin that the term sheet passed by. This change would have forced another City Council vote on the stadium agreement that will be negotiated between PSV and the Austin City Manager. Now, PSV and the City of Austin will have until early October to negotiate and agree to a stadium lease for the McKalla Place site.
So, is it over? Does this spell the end of the Columbus Crew SC in Columbus and the start of MLS’s third Texas team? Not by a long shot.
In Austin, there is a looming threat of legal action regarding the City’s need to fully realize the cost put into McKalla Place by the Austin Water Utility (nearly $20 million) and the lack of a competitive bidding process for the sale of the land. Attorney Bill Aleshire, an Austin lawyer specializing in open government law, sent the City of Austin a demand letter in June articulating his claim should the City Council agree to a land use deal with PSV.
Political activists have also threatened to force an election on the agreement as soon as May of 2019. If this vote is granted, PSV’s deal will hit yet another roadblock.
PSV also has a lot of work to do before it can get down to the intricate details of moving the Crew in time for the 2019 season. The Austin City Manger has been authorized to negotiate and execute a stadium deal with PSV by October of 2018, but that requires actually negotiating a deal by then. There are many vague details in the term sheet that must be fully ironed out within the next two months.
Glaringly, PSV currently has no temporary stadium site to utilize in 2019. The University of Texas has so far brushed off PSV’s offers to rent any of its stadiums, but their opinion could always change if the Crew’s move is assured. Without UT, Precourt would be left to look at Dell Diamond, with a capacity of only 11,000, or the Circuit of the Americas which is the future home of a rival United Soccer League franchise. Even if PSV is able to solidify the agreement by the October deadline and avoid various legal actions in Austin, it will be incredibly difficult to find a suitable location for play for 2019.
Columbus still hasn’t given up its fight to keep the Crew in its birthplace. Following the vote in Austin, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther reiterated the City’s commitment to keep it’s team.
The “Modell Law” has also yet to reach it’s conclusion. Oral arguments on the motion to dismiss are scheduled for Sept. 4. Following the decision, this case could drag on much longer than PSV or MLS would want.
There is clearly at least one local ownership group who has met with MLS executives and attempted to negotiate with PSV on the purchase of the Crew. MLS and PSV could always decide that playing in Austin in 2019 is unworkable and agree to sell the team.
This isn’t over.