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Community members weighing in on bringing MLS soccer to Austin

Wednesday's public meeting about possibly bringing a Major League Soccer team to Austin began at 9 a.m.

AUSTIN -- City staff is hosted a public meeting at Austin City Hall Wednesday regarding terms reached between them and Precourt Sports Ventures for potentially bringing a Major League Soccer team to Austin.

The stadium could be built at McKalla Place in North Austin near the Domain, but according to the Austin Business Journal, a last-minute alternate proposal by Capella Capital Partners could potentially move it out to the Circuit of the Americas, where another soccer team is already headed.

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There are some notable changes in the new terms from the original proposal.

For example, PSV will no longer be required to pay property taxes for the stadium. Instead, they will have to pay more than $500,000 each year to rent the facility from the City. Also, the new terms state the team would be responsible for site prep costs, in contrast to the original proposal where it was the City's responsibility.

The original proposal from PSV also included funding for affordable housing at an off-site location, whereas now the plan includes space for 130 units of affordable housing.

Throughout the entire negotiation process, PSV President Dave Greeley said his team is looking forward to bringing something to McKalla Place that it has never seen before.

"There's been no economic impact. There have been no community benefits. It's been that way for 25 years," Greeley said. "We're proposing a situation where we could remedy that for generations to come and we're hopeful that the City and council members agree with what we're proposing."

Not all city leaders are on board with bringing MLS to Austin. For District 7 Councilwoman Leslie Pool, the talks are shaping up to be a bad negotiation.

“The City of Austin has a history of bad negotiations. The City gives away too much, and they get too little in return. And this is another example of that,” said Pool. “It’s got a lot of non-binding, unenforceable language about what they’re using the term 'good faith' in the agreement that leaves a lot to the imagination, and it doesn't mean anything."

At Wednesday's meeting, city leaders were met by those in full support of MLS venturing to Austin, as well as community members concerned over issues surrounding public transit and affordable housing.

"People who need affordable housing, they don't have a voice here," said Susan Spataro, who shared she's not against soccer coming to Austin, but believes the negotiations need adjusting. "These people are working two jobs. They're hourly workers. They don't understand the process. They're not going to bring their children in here and say I have no place to live, but that is Austin, Texas, today."

"It appears that there are some folks that want soccer to solve a lot of issues for our city, and we can solve some, we can't solve them all,” said Richard Suttle, the attorney for Precourt Sports Ventures. "If transit is a priority over some of the other things we've offered, then we just need to reallocate the resources, there's a finite amount of resources, that can be spent on this project."

"I have no problem with the team coming here, I think they ought to buy land, private land, and they ought to pay taxes and they ought to run their business like everyone else. No, I am absolutely not against soccer, I don't think the government should be supporting it,” said Spataro.

Some of the people say they oppose these terms because they feel they're too vague, and give away too much.

"They want us to sign a contract that will last for about 50 years, so we need the specifics, we need to know exactly what we are paying for as taxpayers,” said Francoise Luca, who lives in the neighborhood near the McKalla site.

"The latest term sheet I don't think is good enough, I mean that's pennies in the bucket when it comes to the rent they're paying versus what the community is going to spend on the infrastructure, and the metro rail, and transportation, and it's not good enough,” said Marisa Perryman, who also lives near the site. "There's going to be a lot of people trying to park on our streets and clog them up even more, the traffic's going to be an even bigger headache than it is now, our commute times are going to go up and it's going to become not livable."

"I think it's a subsidy that the City really can't afford. It would be a nice amenity, but there are many more important things that Austin needs to be spending it's tax dollars on, we have a bond election coming up with a lot of important things that need to get paid for,” said Gary Price.

Luke Metzger is a soccer fan and attended the meeting with his two children. He believes that MLS will be good for the city because it will give him the opportunity to attend the games with his family in Austin in the near future.

"When we recognize all the benefits the stadium will provide to the city in terms of cultural amenity, the jobs, the opportunities for youth soccer programs, I think it's well worth the investment the city is making," he said.

For the games he's attended around the country, he said on-site parking is usually limited, and fans typically take public transit or use a rideshare company.

"We're very excited about the prospect of there being a Major League Soccer team here in town, and we want to be able to go to the games,” said Metzger. "We think the MLS stadium will just provide so many opportunities, in terms of youth programs for children to learn soccer, especially from low income communities, as well as just being a community gathering spot, because soccer is something that brings together people from all nationalities and backgrounds and across the income spectrum, it really will be something that will unite the community."

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Wednesday's public meeting began at 9 a.m. The Austin City Council could make a decision on the issue as early as next week.

The meeting will be in executive session until 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Mayor Adler and city leaders agreed that if there are still members of the community who have not had a chance to weigh in by 5 p.m., then they will keep the doors open through 6:30 p.m.

Another special called meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m.

Follow reporter Christy Millweard on Twitter for live updates from the meeting.

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