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Columbus Crew owner might be escorted to Austin city limits

Tuesday 6th February 2018

Anthony Precourt is not David Beckham. That is obvious on several levels, but especially if you don’t follow Major League Soccer, or particularly Columbus Crew. That is to say, most people have only heard of the one.

To catch you up:

  • Precourt owns the Columbus Crew.
  • The Crew is a founding franchise in MLS.
  • MLS opened for business in 1996.
  • Crew Stadium opened for business in 1999.
  • It was the first soccer-specific stadium in league history.
  • That’s special because MLS loves it some soccer-specific stadia.
  • The problem is, in a world where your new smart phone is obsolete before you fully charge the battery the first time, 20-year-old Crew Stadium is now considered a relic.
  • Precourt wants a shiny new stadium with all the modern bells and whistles.
  • He doesn’t want to pay for it.
  • The City of Columbus doesn’t want to pay for it.
  • Precourt has made some noise about moving the beloved team to Austin, Texas.
  • Austin is 1,236 miles from Columbus.
  • 1,236 miles is almost 2,000 kilometres.
  • Crew fans are not happy.
  • On the other hand, neither are Austin residents.

Austin residents are up in arms because the sites Precourt had chosen to build a soccer-specific stadium for the Austin Crew, if that’s the name the team will still bear, included two public parks.

As it happens, Austin is filled with tech-happy millennials who are obsessed with a decidedly different green than Anthony Precourt. The city is Donald Trump’s least favourite in Texas, because it is extremely fond and protective of the environment.  Austinites believe in global warming. They liked the Paris Climate Accord. They love National Parks. They love their public ones even more.

Precourt had pretty much caved on any public-financing option for a new stadium in Austin. He agreed to foot the bill himself. That is when he began to encounter similar resistance to that David Beckham and his investment group ran up against in Miami.

Residents began picketing the parks Precourt had selected. Precourt had to remove his preferred downtown location, Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, from the list due to vehement opposition. Following that success, 60 protesters appeared at Roy G Guerrero Park.

The site was one of two still remaining from Precourt’s original five. Protesters at the park included Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez.

It really is a shock to me to think that we are now going to say that we can give some of our parkland away. No way. We’re paying taxes for that land, and we want to keep it for families in this community.

Other speakers were concerned with the portion of the park that served as a wildlife preserve. Still others were upset their children would not have a place to play Little League baseball, soccer, or other organised sports.

Precourt’s last remaining option in Austin is McKalla Business Park, a warehouse district sidled up against a commercial neighbourhood filled with restaurants and bars that cater to the nearby University of Texas at Austin campus.

In the exhaustive process to find a home for his Miami MLS franchise Beckham encountered similar resistance. He, too, had agreed to privately finance the new ground but experienced opposition from existing businesses. His last choice, in the run-down Overtown neighbourhood, evoked litigation from a wealthy landowner who believed the city should have opened the land to public bidding. Eventually, Beckham prevailed.

In Miami, David Beckham is building an organisation from scratch. Anthony Precourt, of course, already has a team. He also has a stadium and a loyal fanbase. Odds the side will remain in Columbus have improved. One way or another, however, it seems likely Crew faithful will be made to pay.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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