Ohio government officials announced they have filed a lawsuit against Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt and Major League Soccer to keep the team from moving to Austin.
In October, Precourt announced he was considering moving to Austin and has been communicating with the Austin City Council to find sites for a stadium and training facility.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Columbus city leaders said Columbus Crew SC's move would violate a city code from 1996. Following the relocation of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, the General Assembly enacted Ohio Revised Code 9.67.
"The narrowly written, common-sense statute applies to owners whose teams use tax-supported facilities and accept financial assistance from the state and its localities," a statement from the city said. "It 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."
According to a statement, the lawsuit alleges that the Crew SC and its affiliates have:
- Accepted the benefits of approximately $5 million in state taxpayer-funded improvements to their parking facilities.
- Accepted state property tax exemption for the land on which the Crew SC’s home field, Mapfre Stadium, sits.
- Leased that land from the state at a below-market rate.
- Accepted more than $300,000 in city taxpayer-funded reimbursements of their costs in moving portions of a storm sewer and constructing a water line.
- Entered into a Tax Increment Financing and Economic Development Agreement with the city of Columbus to extend Silver Drive to increase access to Mapfre Stadium currently costing the city $1.3 million in tax revenue with the potential total cost of more than $2.1 million.
On Tuesday, Precourt Sports Ventures and MLS released the following joint statement:
"Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer are disappointed that the Ohio Attorney General and the City of Columbus have chosen to commence litigation rather than encouraging public officials in Columbus to engage in constructive discussions about the future of Columbus Crew SC.
The complaint, regrettably, chooses to ignore both the facts and the law. Since acquiring the right to operate the Club in 2013, PSV has made significant investments both on and off the field to try and make Crew SC a viable enterprise in Columbus. Despite these efforts and the on-field success of the Club, Crew SC has been at or near the bottom in the League with respect to box office results and corporate support. Marketplace challenges have existed in Columbus for 22 years since the club’s founding in 1996. As a result, PSV last October announced that it would explore the possibility of relocation while also continuing to see if Columbus can be a successful MLS market, and in particular, whether there is a path to a new stadium.
MLS and PSV remain willing to engage with both public officials and potential private investors in Columbus to determine if there is a legitimate plan to make Crew SC viable in Columbus, including a plan for a new stadium.
Throughout this process, PSV and MLS have complied, and will continue to comply, with all relevant laws, but we strongly disagree with the AG’s and City’s interpretation of the Modell Law, its applicability to Columbus Crew SC, and the remedies they seek."