IndyAustin Launches NEW Petition Drive to Put
Soccer Stadium Deal on the May 2019 Ballot
Taxpayers Deserve a Vote on City Council Plan to Give Away $250 Million in Corporate Subsidies
and Property Tax Waivers to a Private, For-Profit Sports Team
September 27, 2018 — IndyAustin, together with Austin citizens and local businesses, has begun gathering signatures for a petition that will trigger a public vote on $250 million in taxpayer subsidies and property tax waivers the Mayor and City Council have earmarked for a soccer stadium for Anthony Precourt, owner of Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV).
Precourt, the California-based owner of a Major League Soccer team in Columbus, Ohio, has led a multi-year, and at times secretive, effort to move his team from Columbus to the more lucrative Austin market by leveraging taxpayer subsidies to finance the move. IndyAustin commits to gathering the 20,000 signatures necessary to secure a spot on the May 2019 ballot in order to overturn what could be the single biggest corporate giveaway in Austin history.
During a special called meeting on August 15, 2018, the Mayor and City Council voted 7-4 to authorize the city manager to sign an agreement that will allow Precourt to lease 24 acres of public land at McKalla Place for the stadium. The agreement sets Precourt’s lease payments to the City at zero dollars for the first five years, and then at 75 percent below fair market value beginning in year six, while requiring the City to help him avoid paying all property taxes on the land and stadium that he would otherwise owe.
Without a petition to put the soccer subsidy deal before voters, Precourt will pay zero dollars in property taxes for decades, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue for the City, AISD, Travis County, Central Health and ACC. At the same time, with FY 2018-19 budgets just passed by the City of Austin and Travis County, the average homeowner in Austin will see their tax bill go up by $110 over last year and pay $5,180 in city and county taxes and fees.
“It is outrageous that the Mayor has facilitated this special deal while homeowners are expected to carry the burden of increased property taxes in a city that’s unaffordable as it is. And it’s not just homeowners — locally owned iconic small businesses are struggling and closing due to out-of-control property taxes. Threadgill’s is the latest example but won’t be the last unless voters do something about it,” said Francoise Luca, president of the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association, which encompasses the McKalla tract. “The stadium deal is the biggest corporate subsidy in Austin history, and voters should have a say if the Mayor and City Council shifts the tax burden away from a billionaire business owner and onto our local businesses, homeowners and renters.”
A study by City of Austin staff had previously designated McKalla Place as the best City-owned real estate asset on which to build affordable housing. Despite that, the soccer stadium deal was fast-tracked by City Council based on seemingly arbitrary deadlines imposed by Precourt, another reason IndyAustin and its supporters are petitioning for the ballot measure.
“The City Council’s transfer of the McKalla tract — prime property for affordable housing and taxpaying development — to be used for a tax-free soccer stadium shows that Austin taxpayers cannot trust the Council to make good use of City-owned properties,” said Austin attorney and former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire. “I support this petition drive to make the Council get voter approval, like is already required for parkland, before other City-owned land is handed over for sports boondoggles.”
Austin has long been faced with an affordable housing crisis and the McKalla Place giveaway is only the latest chapter in that story. In 2013, Austin voters passed a $65 million affordable housing bond. Now, in the aftermath of approving a soccer subsidy that gives away public land designated for affordable housing, the Mayor and City Council are asking voters to approve a record-high $250 million affordable housing bond. That bond will be part of $1 billion in bonds on the ballot in the November 6 election.
If passed, the new housing bond could lead to another round of property taxes increases. And without the petition, Precourt would likely still pay zero dollars in property taxes while taxes go up again for homeowners and small businesses.
“I am baffled as to how the Mayor and a majority of Council can deny citizens the right to vote on this stadium giveaway and ask us for $1 billion in bonds! But what can you expect when the Council voted for the city manager to sign the final soccer deal? This publicly subsidized private stadium deal will collapse when enough people smell the stench of frittering away public dollars and public land in the middle of an affordability crisis,” said David Jones, co-founder of IndyAustin.
Beginning this week, hundreds of volunteers will be canvassing the city at events, in public places and door-to-door, as IndyAustin gathers the 20,000 signatures needed to give taxpayers a voice before it’s too late to undo Precourt’s massive subsidies and property tax exemptions.
For more information about the petition and getting it on the ballot in May 2019 so voters can decide, please visit indyaustin.org.
IndyAustin is dedicated to providing citizens their most powerful tool guaranteed by the Texas Constitution — the right to petition for a public vote when their local government fails them. We organize voters across party, geography and all other divides to form a more perfect union for political reform and fiscal accountability. IndyAustin is a registered specific-purpose political committee with the City of Austin. We do not endorse candidates. Donations are not tax deductible. For more information please visit indyaustin.org
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To view the petition and details about it, go to the home page of IndyAustin.org and click on the Sucker.
The full petition page with details and instructions is here.
Linda Curtis, contact@IndyAustin.org * 512.657.2089
IndyAustin is calling for a Public Vote on the Soccer Stadium. Some things are complicated, this isn’t.
When you finish reading this, please reply to let us know you want to help. We’ll be calling a meeting VERY soon.
If you were around in 1995, you might remember the “emergency baseball stadium.” Back then, the city couldn’t run up new debt without a public vote. That is, unless it was an “emergency.” Then Mayor Bruce Todd invoked the emergency clause in the city charter. We had great fun dubbing it the “Emergency Baseball Stadium.” Fifteen thousand signatures later, the city caved, put it on the ballot and it went down 2 to 1 at the polls.
If the city hadn’t been in such a hurry, it might have been able to bring the Phoenix Firebirds to Austin. In this current stadium “deal,” maybe there are real reasons for this hide-and-sneak game to rush things by the public that we cannot learn about until the deal is inked.
That is the main reason we are calling for a public vote on the Soccer Stadium.
Just a Few More Good Reasons to Call for a Public Vote on the Soccer Stadium:
- Precourt Sports Ventures is being sued by the State of Ohio for attempting to leave Cincinatti (Correction: Columbus!] According to Bill Aleshire (see our post of July 12 – Sucker Not Soccer), it’s not at all clear the city can deal with Precourt until the suit is resolved. Will someone please explain why we want our City to jump into bed with people who could be illegally pulling out of another deal?
- The Stadium is planned for the McKalla Place property, one of the city’s prime locations designated BY the city for affordable housing.
- The city is rushing this plan for August 9 and answered NO questions at the “input session” last week!
Read this quick report of last week’s City sponsored “input session.” See if you agree that this deal has a stench that won’t go away until we win the right to a public vote.
The McKalla Place Input Session
The City of Austin allowed Precourt Sports Ventures to put huckster-lobbyist, Richard Suttle, front and center of the “McKalla Place Input Session.” After Suttle verbally chastised anyone in the audience opposed to the deal, he told us what a unifier soccer is with a video invoking Nelson Mandela. We are not kidding!
The good news is that there were some very smart and diverse folks who raised serious questions about the deal. The bad news is that they received literally NO answers.
Our take was that the design of this “input session” was just a good old-fashioned bait and switch game to get the audience to buy-in to the “community benefits” like free tickets to games, etc. We also thought the audience members weren’t buying it.
Soccer is a fine sport and can be a unifier when its purpose is honest and clear. However, this Precourt-Suttle-Mark Littlefield lobbyist-huckster deal isn’t about soccer. Our read is that it is more likely a straight up rip-off of Austin to the tune of tens of millions of public dollars. Because it’s being rushed so fast, we may not know just how bad it is before Council passes it as early as August 9th. This is why calling for a public vote on the soccer stadium is so very important.
You can watch the “Input Session” and tell us what you think.
The City of Miami Just Gave Their Voters the Right to Vote on Soccer Subsidies
The city of Miami apparently has a little more sensitivity to their citizens. They recently voted to put their public subsidy of a soccer stadium up for a vote in November. Read it here in the Miami Herald.
You Have Oodles of Options In Addition to Calling for a Public Vote on Soccer
More good news is that Austin voters have options. Here are just some of them:
- The right to petition for a public vote on this “deal”, and
- Voting out any incumbent up for reelection who supports this.
- Running for any council seat up yourself, and
- The right to petition for recall.
Hang on to your hats folks and get ready to move quickly on this one. We’ll be sending you more information very shortly.
Precourt sued in Ohio, but who cares we all might ask ourselves.
Open government attorney Bill Aleshire always does his homework. On June 29, just following the Council deliberation on the Precourt Sports Ventures soccer deal, Aleshire sent this letter to Austin City Attorney, Anne Morgan. It contained this warning:
“I am confident that a court will grant an injunction if the City proceeds in that mistaken direction of offering McKalla Place to be leased for a soccer stadium.”
Aleshire points out in his letter that on March 5th the Ohio Attorney General and the city of Columbus filed suit against Precourt. Then, on June 21, the 10th District Court of Appeals swiftly denied Precourt’s motion to dismiss. This quote from Columbus City Attorney, Zach Klein, in this City of Columbus release, explains the simple essence of the case:
“This statute is in place to prevent owners from taking taxpayer benefits, and then shopping their team to the next highest bidder.”
Precourt sued in Ohio, but who cares? Aleshire tells the Austin City Attorney:
“One must also wonder about the City of Austin conspiring with Precourt to violate an Ohio law designed to protect local taxpayers from harm when a sports franchise tries to abandon the city after accepting public benefits.”
Aleshire then advises the City of Austin, free of charge mind you:
“It would seem to make sense for Council to wait and at least not make a commitment to Precourt until they get their legal mess in Ohio straightened out so we know if Precourt will even have a MLS franchise to locate here.”
Then, Aleshire goes on to drop a not-so-subtle hint:
“What Austin has done to Columbus, Ohio smacks of tortious interference in their contract with Precourt.”
And, here’s the real Aleshire open government kicker
. He points out that the City tried to hide the appraisal and financial analysis for this property. The city did so by denying open records requests in an alleged violation of the law. Meanwhile, the Aleshire letter notes the feigned support by Mayor Steve Adler and District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan for “transparency.”
Do Soccer and Sucker Sound the Same to You?
We all know now that McKalla property is worth over $18 million. You have to ask yourself how the Austin City Council could even entertain a long-term “lease” to Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) for $1?
Could it have anything to do with who Precourt hired to lobby their –sucker, oh we mean, soccer — deal? First, there is of course Richard Suttle, with a long history of working sucker deals at City Hall. Like how ‘bout those Formula 1 subsidies? Then there is longtime City Hall insider lobbyist/consultant, Mark Littlefield.
The Austin Water Utility owns the McKalla property. This is the second time Aleshire has caught the city undermining its own water utility. But, once again, there’s no seeming concern for your water rates and your pockets. “Sucker deals” like Precourt’s send lobbyists hunting to make honey pots for themselves — like AWU – at your expense.
Our favorite quote from the Aleshire letter:
“The Dalai Lama said, ‘A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.’ The Dalai Lama was referring to China totalitarianism, but it is equally true in Austin, Texas.”
Again, here’s Aleshire’s letter here and back up here.
Plan to Come to Council, August 9th
The August 9th City Council meeting should be a doozy. Many people are reasonably pushing for affordable housing at the Precourt chosen site. We hope that Precourt sued by Ohio becomes a bumper sticker too.
KUT Hands Adler a Pass Today
KUT radio, which genuinely strives for objective and in-depth coverage, missed a beat in this morning’s interview with Mayor Steve Adler. Adler is heard bemoaning the state’s challenges to Austin’s local control having moved from the legislature into the courtroom. Fact is, the Mayor has done little to clean up the city’s apparent appetite for open government violations and transparency transgressions. And, we’ll say it again. Adler and his narrow majority could have put CodeNEXT up for a public vote. Instead he chose to force a citizen petition drive and now a court battle.
Bulldog Ain’t No Sucker Delivers More Bite
No one told you the full story behind the Attorney General’s lawsuit to make the City follow it’s own charter on the composition of the Austin Planning Commission. Read the full story here in The Austin Bulldog.
As we await the court’s decision on your right to vote on the CodeNEXT petition, we also suggest you read this Austin Bulldog report.
Councilmember Ellen Troxclair signs the Austin Efficiency Audit petition at today’s filing. Also pictured is former Councilman Don Zimmerman, Fred Lewis, Michael Searle and Rebecca Melancon (Austin Independent Business Alliance)
Additional News! Audit Petition Filed Today, Troxclair Out
Petitioners just filed nearly 33,000 raw signatures today to place an Austin Efficiency Audit petition on the ballot for a public vote this November. The effort was led by former Ellen Troxcair aide, Michael Searle. Congratulations to the entire team. Read the Austin Bulldog story about the audit measure here, printed on May 25.
District 8 Council member Ellen Troxclair announced today that she will not be running for reelection. This article in today’s Statesman has a inelegant quote from Mark Littlefield. He appears to forget that city council elections in Texas are supposed to be non-partisan. Troxclair, the only conservative voice on the Council, deserves a simple thank you for her service.
CodeNEXT Petition Tune-In, Turn-In Meeting
This meeting is about the CodeNEXT petition drive. We will announce where we’re at with the CodeNEXT petition drive.
How many signatures do we have and will be make the March 15th deadline to get petitions turned into us at IndyAustin? (Filing deadline for us to the City is March 30).
Please come, bring signed petitions and bring your friends and neighbors.
Attorney Bill Aleshire will speak with us about petition access at poll sites and other public locations, including the Austin Public Libraries.
Read the Cease and Desist email alert we sent about this here.
Plenty of free parking in the back!
Y’all come TONIGHT at this “Tune-In, Turn-In Petition Update” event.
Petitioning for the right to vote on CodeNEXT.
We’re going to tell you exactly where we’re at with the progress on our petition drive for the right to vote on CodeNEXT.
We had a grand effort and result during Early Voting! AND, tomorrow, Election Day, we can finish the petition drive WITH YOUR HELP!
Open government attorney, Bill Aleshire, will be on hand tonight to talk about the right to petition at the polls and the public libraries. In addition, Bill can answer your questions about what we know so far about the City’s mishandling of the Amazon bid.)
Mark your calendars: This coming Saturday’s petitioning at Barton Springs Reopening Splash Day and the Austin Public Libraries from 12- to 5. More on this after tomorrow’s Election Day effort.
Can’t make it tonight? Fill out this volunteer form or give us a call at 512.657.2089.
We’re almost done! And, yes, we still need your donations to cover the costs of this petition drive!
Don’t fail us now, Austin. Come on out and finish this urgently important effort to secure your right to weigh in on your future.