The MetroRail was quiet and relatively empty as I stared out the window on the way downtown for the Community Information Session last night.
I heard an announcement over the speaker as we pulled into the Kramer station from a raspy, lethargic voice:
“We won’t be able to leave this station until the northbound train arrives, we have to wait on them, then we’ll get going again.”
I chuckled at the irony. This is the station that will be deconstructed and relocated to McKalla Place, if things go according to plan. It’s almost like the station was a sentient being, holding onto every last train that stopped on its tracks for as long as it could.
The delay only lasted another couple of minutes, and we were right back in motion.
After I got off the train at the final stop, I had a joyous mile-long walk in 103 degree heat to the Central Library, a gorgeous building with air conditioning that may have literally saved my life. I slid into the back of the room where the Community Information Session was taking place on the first floor (thank God) and the first thing I heard was this:
“I live about a mile away from where the stadium would be, and I’m concerned about the crowd noise and the traffic. Most people here are just going to visit the stadium from time to time, but I have to live there.”
I have to live there. What a statement. I have to live in the most exciting part of Austin, where culture abounds, commerce is thriving and entertainment options are endless. That’s like saying, “you guys use Google from time to time but I have to work there.”
I was thoroughly surprised to hear similar complaints from people in the area. They have to know the values of their homes are going to skyrocket, right? I mean, I’m already looking at homes in the area because I want to get in on the investment early. These people are sitting on a goldmine.
Most opposing residents brought up three main concerns:
- PSV not paying property taxes
- Parking issues, traffic, noise
- PSV’s lack of transparency and empathy for Columbus community
Proponents of the move had three primary arguments, as well:
- Soccer unites the community
- Austin may never get this opportunity again
- Millions of dollars will funnel into the city from MLS team and fans
Some residents mistook the phrase “uniting the community” for “ending racism and all social justice issues,” which certainly isn’t the case. Soccer will not – and, for the record, doesn’t exist to – end racism. I wish it could, but it can’t. Sports do a wonderful job of bringing people of all backgrounds together for a moment in time, but they don’t solve the problems of humanity. No one should look to sports to do that, it’s unrealistic.
What sports can do, however, is provide entertainment and memories for families to cherish, increase the value of nearby homes, infuse millions of dollars into the local economy, give back to the community and invest in the youth.
Here are my thoughts on some of the more common concerns:
- True, PSV won’t pay property taxes. Instead, they’ll fully fund a $200 million stadium and let Austin keep the land. They’ll use the stadium for other community events, build affordable housing, pay for and construct a new MetroRail station and further invest in the community in a variety of other ways. I think that’s a pretty good deal. It worked out well for both the Round Rock Express and the City of Round Rock when they made a similar deal back in 2005.
- The Domain area is more than capable of providing enough parking for soccer matches. PSV will surely work out a deal with Simon Property Group, which owns the Domain, to use those parking garages and set up a bus/trolley to go back and forth before and after games. Traffic is an ongoing problem and can’t get much worse. Austin needs to deal with that on its own, it’s not the responsibility of PSV. Lastly, the noise complaint is ridiculous. They’re not playing the Super Bowl out there. McKalla Place, that whole area, is largely industrial and commercial. There aren’t many residential spots in the immediate area, and it’s not like they’re doing nuclear testing at the stadium.
- Why do Austinites care so much about what happens to Columbus? They act as though Anthony Precourt stripped this team from their city with no rationale behind it, as if only to cause residents as much suffering as possible. The reason the Columbus Crew are leaving is because Columbus residents don’t care about the team. If they did, they’d show up to the games. If they cared about the team, business owners would provide better sponsorship. Columbus had their chance and blew it. Now it’s time to let another city enjoy the benefits of an MLS team.
All in all, I found the Community Information Session to be incredibly interesting. The attendees seemed split 50/50 on bringing the MLS to Austin, but I think even those who spoke against the move weren’t absolutely opposed—they just wanted better benefits negotiated out of the deal. That’s a good sign.