The Austin City Council voted on August 15 to authorize City staff to negotiate and execute a stadium and lease agreement at McKalla Place in North Austin with Precourt Sports Ventures. Precourt Sports, the investor-operator group of the Major League Soccer team Columbus Crew SC, has been negotiating terms for the potential 20,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium for several months. The privately funded $200 million stadium project will be built on a 24-acre, city-owned property near the popular mixed-use Domain development.
Precourt Sports hired Gensler, TBG Partners, and CAA ICON to complete the renderings for the Austin Football Club. The renderings feature an open-air stadium, large entrances, outdoor landscaped space for live performances, parks, and trails. Jonathan Emmet, principal and design director at Gensler Sports practice, said in a statement released in May: “The venue and match-day experience will incorporate strong local influences on food and beverage; live music and technology. Careful orientation and the design of the roof canopy will ensure ample shading while strategically placed open corners will allow for cooling breezes. The soccer park will provide the local community with a network of amenities and landscaped spaces, in and around the venue, that will be active on gamedays and non-gamedays alike.”
Precourt Sports agreed to fund the stadium, while the City will maintain ownership of both the land and stadium. However, this means Precourt Sports could potentially not pay property taxes at the site. Travis County commissioners quickly, and unanimously, voted to “authorize the county attorney to preserve the county’s right to challenge the tax-exempt status of the stadium company’s use of city property.”
McKalla Place was purchased by the City, through Austin Water, in 1995 for $1.5 million. The site was occupied between 1956 and 1985 by Reichhold Chemicals, a company that manufactured specialty chemicals for boat and fiberglass industries. Along with various buildings, drum storage areas, and surface wastewater treatment impoundments, Reichhold constructed five earthen surface impoundments and six lined surface impoundments as part of their manufacturing and wastewater handling process. In response to repeated environmental citations, Reichhold stopped using the earthen impoundments. The company ceased operations in Austin in 1985, following an explosion, and submitted a closure plan which outlined decontamination of the property. However, during construction of an Austin Water service center in 2003, an explosion occurred and prompted additional testing, which resulted in environmental remediation of the site at the cost of $5 million to the City.
That said, the current term sheet places the value of Precourt Sports’ community benefits package at more than $96 million over 20 years. The open-air stadium and live performance arena will potentially only have 1,000 onsite parking places. The minimal parking motivated the City Council to include an agreed-upon amendment to the term sheet that requires Precourt Sports provide $3 million in funding to CapMetro over a 15-year period. The inclusion of the payment for bus services to the area was pivotal in winning over hesitant council members.
Additional successful amendments to the term sheet included further investigation and determination on whether or not the site should be considered a protected wetland, and a push for Precourt Sports’ stadium to achieve a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard. The City Council also managed a promise from Precourt Sports to include, in the finalization of the stadium plan, an allocation of up to one acre towards the development of 130 affordable housing units on the southeast portion of the site. A third-party affordable housing expert will be hired, and Precourt Sports agreed to discuss future financial contributions to the project. Provisions that failed included limiting Precourt Sports’ branding on the public infrastructure, and a last-minute rent increase to $950,000 versus the $550,000 annual rent after six years that was settled on.
Precourt Sports hopes to have the stadium complete for the 2021 MLS season, and the Austin FC moved to Texas from Columbus, Ohio by the 2019 season.