As the city of San Antonio stands on the sidelines patiently waiting for its MLS-mandated bid to be considered for one of the remaining expansion slots, chaos ensues around it in an escalating guerilla war involving three other cities.
And that was just last week. This week – and apparently now for months to come – this could get really crazy. There’s seemingly another development in every six-hour cycle.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog with historical detail and context (MLSinSA: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in San Antonio and Austin) and if you haven’t had a chance to read it please do so.
It was written to remain “evergreen” and I’m pleased how it has held up considering the daily you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up details oozing out of the Columbus Crew-to-Austin-overriding-San Antonio saga. Just when we thought we’d seen it all, there’s another conflict or contradiction that changes yesterday’s developments.
At the core of this growing grease fire is an alleged contractual backdoor in Anthony Precourt’s contract when he bought the Columbus Crew known as The Austin Clause. Supposedly it allows him to move the team to Texas’ state capital, but no other city.
That’s significant because MLS has already chosen Nashville and Cincinnati for two of the four slots from what started as a 12-city expansion process. Two slots remain – allegedly – and San Antonio and Sacramento are in the remaining 10-city pool. Austin was never involved in the expansion bid process. Here’s where there’s a bit of tedious background necessary to appreciate the chaos that’s becoming comical.
Precourt’s company, Precourt Sports Ventures, has a team of lobbyists leaning on the Austin City Council to get them to approve PSV’s proposal of $1 annual lease for the tract of land known as McKalla Place at the council’s June 28th meeting. One of the lobbyists, Richard Suttle, is a registered MLS lobbyist in Austin working with PSV. When other proposals recently emerged from investment companies to buy McKalla for as much as $22 million for mixed use, Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district includes the 24-acre site, suggested vetting the proposals in some sort of abbreviated RFP process.
Suttle, who many insiders believe is taking direction from MLS Commissioner Don Garber, blew a fuse and angrily denounced Pool’s suggestion of studying the plans to make the best decision, saying, “If we have to wait for months to see if McKalla is going to work out or not, then I think we have no other option but to look at other cities.”
That’s when this grease fire jumped from the kitchen to curtains in the dining room. Other cities? So if the alleged Austin Clause was to move the Crew to Austin, there are no other cities. Then about a six-hour cycle later it leaked – or oozed out – that Precourt would move the Crew to Sacramento if the Austin City Council did not accept PSV’s proposal before the end of the June. And now Sacramento? The same Sacramento that’s allegedly in the MLS-directed expansion process? We hear out of Sacramento many believe this is how the city will finally get a team.
So MLS stands for Massive Laughable Scenario? The best MLS action right now isn’t on the pitch, it’s this unfolding chaos creating a kinda municipal Game Of Thrones involving deceit, deception, betrayal, angry threats and demands from the wealthy and powerful. At least Columbus and San Antonio are on the side of the good and righteous in that analogy.
When are the other MLS owners going to step up and tell Precourt and Garber this fiasco needs to end? Are the other owners OK with the league’s expansion process becoming a foot-in-the-bucket mockery? At this rate the SaveTheCrew hashtag is going to get tattooed on Garber’s legacy.
Has Anthony Precourt become the most hated professional sports team owner in the United States? Quite possibly. Right now he makes Jerry Jones look like Gandhi.
Is it time for the leaders of all MLS supporters groups and USL supporters associated with the expansion cities to form a singular resistance movement against this unchecked greed, betrayal and deceit coming from MLS leadership and certain owners? Remember, SaveTheCrew is a relocation fight going on today in Columbus, Ohio, but the possibility of relocation could involve your team in your city tomorrow. Other owners are watching.
But the deceit, deception and betrayal part also follows Austin Mayor Steve Adler around like McKalla’s smelly fumes. After San Antonio submitted its MLS bid in January 2017, there were rumors and back-channel information that MLS and Austin were discussing the possibility of that city being in the mix for a team, even without participation in the expansion process. But that couldn’t happen because it would mean MLS was complicit in undermining its own expansion process.
Recently a 28-page comprehensive recap emerged (see below) that documents – with more than 100 news media and social media links – the sordid saga of Precourt’s ownership in Columbus and MLS-PSV’s overtures in Austin. It lays out the conflict of interest represented with Precourt’s presence on the league’s expansion committee to the communication, meetings, resident surveys and more between Mayor Adler, other officials and MLS.
Comprehensive Recap (PDF): Background on Precourt Sports Ventures and MLS Regarding Potential Columbus Crew SC Move
Comprehensive Recap (Wiki): Futbol Research Group
There’s a ton to unpack in the document, but an immediate takeaway is MLS and the Austin mayor were emailing in September 2016 prior to San Antonio’s league-sanctioned bid months later. Email discussions between Garber and Adler continued through 2017. Two quick items:
- February 2017: Dan Barrett of Barrett Sports Group emails Mayor Adler’s office referencing San Antonio’s expansion bid after the official expansion submissions are published Jan. 31, 2017.
- March 2017: Mayor Adler emails Garber to ask for ideas on what the city can do since it’s not on the expansion bid list. Garber responds, “You got it.”
Part of it happened during former San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor’s tenure, but, still, current Mayor Ron Nirenberg – an active supporter of MLSinSA – has to be getting more steamed as details continue to emerge. So the next time Nirenberg and Adler meet at a mayoral conference are other mayors going to have to step in between them after Nirenberg starts giving Adler a piece of his mind? We all thought municipality stuff was only about zoning and paving projects. Depending on how this MLS situation is resolved, could the city of San Antonio have simmering thoughts of payback toward its neighbor up I-35 North?
Don’t worry about knowing much more background than that because there’s another chapter coming June 28th when the Austin City Council decides what direction to take before going on Summer break. If you’ll give me just a minute I’ll lay out the critical questions that need basic answers so after the council meets you can tell if anything is actually accomplished.
Council Member Pool is advociating studying the latest proposals and seeing if there are others out there, but to do that would cost PSV precious time out of its previous timeline to get the stadium finalized and have the Crew play in Austin next season. Besides paying the city millions of dollars for the land, these other proposals include paying property taxes, which PSV does not want to have to pay.
So let’s just focus on the basics surrounding the McKalla property. With all due respect to the city council, it doesn’t matter if an abbreviated RFP process takes three months or three hours because PSV has failed to answer any part of the four “McKalla Questions” that deal with rail, roads, parking and environmental. How can the council make any decisions when it doesn’t know how much something is going to cost and who is paying for it?
The thumbnail summary:
- Rail. Fans are being told not to drive to the stadium and plan to come by walking, rail, shuttle buses, bikes, hang gliding and other ways. OK, are you moving the Kramer rail station closer and who’s paying for it?
- Roads. When is the Austin Transportation Department performing a comprehensive traffic management and impact study? Estimated infrastructure upgrades are in the $25 million range, which seems prematurely low based on no formal study, and who’s paying for it? How you are going to get to the stadium is a critical question. There has to be a city-approved infrastructure plan because Austin is known statewide for five (5) things:
– The capital of the great state of Texas
– The home of the University of Texas
– Soul-crushing traffic
– A thriving tech industry / SXSW
– Bumper-to-bumper traffic for no apparent reason.
Still think the idea of taking a helicopter is a winner. So as a public service, I made a quick call to Alamo Helicopter Tours to find out what it’d cost to fly from San Antonio International Airport to the nearest heliport by McKalla. So here’s the actual quote for two passengers with light baggage: 45-minute flight up, copter will wait for more than three hours, 45 minutes back with all landing fees included is $1,850. San Antonio fans are thinking that might be worth every penny.
- Parking. PSV has identified 1,000 VIP spaces for a 20,118-seat stadium wedged into a warehouse district. There is no publicly known solution how to reasonably park thousands of cars and trucks within walking distance and no idea of who would be paying for it if there was one. We’ve seen PSV propose more than 10,000 people would have to park several miles away and use shuttle buses. In Texas? A state where residents use their vehicles to go to the refrigerator? Good luck with that.
- Environmental. The Crew-to-Austin tug of war has made McKalla Place one of the most infamous former chemical waste dumps in the U.S. Poor McKalla. Chemical companies were dumping God only knows what kind of liquid into its soil for decades. So for the last 20 years it’s just been chillin’ and enjoying life. Then this absentee MLS owner – the personification of a chemical dump – shows up out of the blue and wants to acquire it for nothing more than suspicious promises. Bet McKalla Place votes to call timeout, ask for more proposals, study all of them and see what its options are.
I’m not a city planner, but seems reasonable to think traffic and parking in and around mixed use developments are completely different user flows than 20,118 people all trying to get into and out of a confined space at the same time. Based on that fact and the vast economic differences of the proposals, it seems studying the pros and cons of each is absolutely critical to making the best decision.
So to Mayor Adler and city council members, aggressively pursue actual verifiable answers to the four McKalla Questions and you’ll be closer than ever to getting to the bottom of this toxic mess.
If not, the chaos will continue with no sign of this guerilla war ending anytime soon. Check back for more details in about six hours.