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MLS

MLS comes to Austin

Welcome to the big leagues.

After a long and often rocky courtship, Austin and Major League Soccer became a match.

The league formally welcomed Austin as its 27th franchise with a raucous downtown party Tuesday full of chanting and flag-waving, and Commissioner Don Garber calling the Texas capital a “perfect fit.” MLS said Austin will begin play in the 2021 season.

“We think of us being a league for a new America,” Garber said. “Austin is diverse. It has enormous energy. It has people who really believe in the city. … We need to be here.”

The move has been long expected as Austin became the target destination for efforts last year to move the Columbus Crew. The Crew instead will stay in Ohio under a new ownership group.

Austin recently signed a lease with Austin majority owner Anthony Precourt, a California-based investor, to provide land for a privately-funded $225 million stadium. The Austin venue will be an open-air facility with a grass playing field on land that has been vacant for 25 years.

“We’re going to unite this city. We’re going to fight for this city. We’re going to make you proud,” Precourt said.

Precourt’s attempts to move the Crew, a bedrock MLS franchise, drew fierce resistance in Columbus as fans rallied to save their team and state and local officials filed lawsuits attempting to block the move.

In Austin, a divided city council argued for months over the stadium deal before it was approved on a narrow vote. Instead of moving the Crew, MLS and Precourt agreed that team would be placed under a new ownership group that includes Cleveland Browns Dee and Jimmy Haslem.

MLS has long eyed Austin — although quietly until 2018 — as an expansion opportunity. Precourt’s initial purchase deal for the Crew included a promise to keep the team in Columbus for at least 10 years, but it also had a clause that would let him move to Austin. And before Precourt announced his desire to move, MLS had trademarked Austin FC and Austin Athletic as possible names for a franchise even though the city had not applied for expansion.

Here’s the official MLS story. I’m happy for Austin, but it turns out that not everyone else is.

Austin FC won’t join MLS until 2021, but it is already the league’s most-hated team.

[…]

So, why does everyone hate Austin FC? The answer is simple: Anthony Precourt.

Precourt owned the Columbus Crew, and announced in 2017 that he planned to relocate the club to Austin because Columbus would not provide a publicly funded stadium. By threatening the move to Austin, Precourt essentially held the club hostage until Jimmy and Dee Haslam partnered with Pete Edwards to save the Crew.

MLS saw the massive public outcry against Precourt’s ownership tactics and still rewarded him with a shiny, new franchise in the city of his choice — all while deserving cities like Sacramento, St. Louis and Phoenix are still vying for the last remaining spot.

Austin has a $225 million, 20,000-seat stadium slated for completion by 2021. Precourt Sports Ventures is funding that project after an agreement with the city.

We already know that Columbus will root viciously against Austin FC. It’s personal for Crew fans. But if MLS decides to stay firm on that 28-team figure, soccer fans from the left-out cities will be rooting against Austin as well.

Click over to see a sample of Twitter reactions. You can add soccer fans in San Antonio to that list, too. Well, it never hurts to have a rivalry in sports. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

Bringing the NWSL to Houston

I approve of this.

The Dynamo are in talks about securing an expansion franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League, which features U.S. national team stars Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

The eight-team NWSL played its inaugural season in 2013 with a commitment from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican women’s national soccer federations.

“We’re involved in the initial stages of this process and hope to learn more about the league and the opportunity over the next few weeks,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “I’m a firm believer in women’s athletics. I think there is a place in the sports landscape for professional women’s sports.”

[…]

The NWSL’s 22-game schedule, which consists of 11 home games and 11 road matches, lasts from April to August. Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, New Jersey and Rochester have teams in the league. Houston would be the league’s first franchise in the Southwest.

If the Dynamo finalize their quest to land an NWSL expansion club, that team would play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Amateur Sports Park, just as the men’s club does.

Houston ought to be a good fit for the league, and I’m sure the Dynamo would like to add a few extra dates to BBVA Compass’ calendar. It currently looks like expansion is a no go for 2014, so don’t look for this next season. Maybe by the time this is all worked out the Dynamo (and the Rockets and the Astros) will be broadcast on a channel that’s available to all of Houston. We can dream, right?

Sale of Dynamo to Les Alexander falls through

From the weekend:

Anschutz Entertainment Group has turned down Rockets owner Leslie Alexander’s offer to purchase the Houston Dynamo and the 30-year lease on BBVA Compass Stadium, effectively ending any further negotiations between the sides.

“Ownership evaluated the offer,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “At the end of the day, they determined that they’re not prepared to accept the offer, thus meaning they will continue in their ownership.”

“(AEG) reiterated the commitment to the team and the stadium and the belief in both properties and are committed to both entities.”

For more than a month, Alexander had been in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the Dynamo and secure the 30-year lease and development agreement on new BBVA Compass Stadium, which opened in May.

As recently as two weeks ago, Rockets CEO Tad Brown expressed optimism about completing the deal.

Not sure what happened, because it sure sounded like a done deal when it was first reported. Too bad, I thought Alexander would have been a fine owner for them. I guess they’ll keep looking. Surely there’s some other rich dude in Houston who would like to own a professional sports team.

Les Alexander on the verge of buying the Dynamo

I like the thought of this.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander is in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the Dynamo and secure the 30-year lease and development agreement on BBVA Compass Stadium, three officials with knowledge of the process said Thursday.

The deal is not complete, but the sides are close, said the three officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Anschutz Entertainment Group owns 50 percent of the Dynamo. Oscar de la Hoya and Mexican billionaire Gabriel Brener own 25 percent each. AEG president Tim Leiweke’s spokesman, Mike Roth, declined to comment on the negotiations with Alexander. Brener is scheduled to be in Houston for the Dynamo’s game Sunday against Columbus.

The Dynamo are a good team, and Alexander is a good owner. The Rockets have had their share of setbacks in their effort to claw their way back to the elite of the NBA, but it’s not been the result of a lack of determination by Alexander and his crew. While the Dynamo aren’t exactly in dire need of a change of direction (that would be the Astros, though their recent change in ownership seems to have them on a better, if long and slogging, path) they could do a lot worse than having Les Alexander writing the checks. On a tangential and somewhat tendentious note, having Alexander and not Phillip Anschutz in control would make me feel better about buying Dynamo tickets since then my money would not be going to bad purposes. A win all around, as far as I’m concerned.

BBVA Compass Stadium

Dynamo Stadium gets a new name.

When the Dynamo first approached BBVA Compass before breaking ground on their new stadium, the two-time MLS Cup champions were looking for a loan to help finance the construction of the club’s venue on the East End.

Now, the bank will have its name and a note on BBVA Compass Stadium, which is set to open on May 12.

“I think the amazing thing is not that they financed it,” said Tim Leiweke, the president of Dynamo co-owner Anschutz Entertainment Group. “It’s not that they’re putting their name on it, but they’re the architects of how we ultimately figured out a way to pay for this without the taxpayers having to write a check. That’s where their real strength was.”

[…]

The Dynamo’s BBVA Compass loan covered the $20 million that was set aside through the inter-local agreement on the tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) for infrastructure improvements on the site, which the city bought for $15.5 million under Mayor Bill White’s administration. Because the $20 million from the TIRZ is accumulated over years, the team needed to take a loan on the money last February in anticipation of getting the funds in the future.

A little more than 10 months after securing that loan with BBVA, the organizations furthered their relationships by announcing a 10-year, $20 million naming rights deal Wednesday.

Good for them, but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep calling it Dynamo Stadium. I’ve used that name for too long to change now. Be that as it may, congrats to the Dynamo getting this done. I look forward to their grand opening of the new digs/

No MLB or NFL for SA any time soon

San Antonio is many things, but a Major League Baseball or NFL city is isn’t, and won’t be any time soon.

Those are the findings of California-based Premier Partnerships, which recently submitted the results of a six-month feasibility study commissioned by Bexar County and San Antonio to determine the viability of professional sports in the area.

The company, which describes itself as a sales and marketing firm that focuses on “revenue optimization” of sports initiatives, found that San Antonio, while hungry to pursue heavyweight leagues, is lacking in corporate sponsorship dollars and infrastructure.

The $50,000 report, which runs more than 250 pages, concludes the city “should continue to build its sports landscape and take a ‘wait and see’ approach with larger professional leagues.”

[…]

The study shows San Antonio lags behind major sports markets in critical areas.

For example, it found the average NFL host metropolitan area includes 18 Fortune 500 companies, ranks 18th as a media market and has a $53,800 median household income. The San Antonio region, in comparison, has six Fortune 500 companies, ranks 37th as a media market and has a $48,000 median income.

Major League Baseball host areas average 17 Fortune 500 companies, average 13th as a media market and have a $71,800 median household income.

“Clearly, the matrix of this (study) shows that it would be difficult to get it,” said County Judge Nelson Wolff, a longtime proponent of luring big-league baseball to San Antonio. “Instead of us talking about getting something in Major League Baseball or the NFL, it makes more sense to look into the future a little more. In 10 or 20 years, what might be available then?”

Fortune 500 companies are useful for buying up luxury suites, which is where the real money comes from, but the overall population is important, too. As we’ve seen before, even as the city of San Antonio has grown, the San Antonio MSA – excuse me, the San Antonio-New Braunfels MSA – still lags behind most of the existing ones with MLB and/or NFL teams. As a media market, San Antonio is only #31; Dallas is #5, and Houston is #6, and most other major league cities are in bigger markets. Put it all together, and I think Judge Wolff has the right idea.

“America’s largest city with no pro sports teams”

This Houston Press lamentation about the city of Austin contained the following tidbit that caught my eye:

Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns).

Well, that depends on how you define “city”, and on how you define “pro”. I presume they mean a team from one of the big four leagues – MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL (*) – as Austin does have an NBA D-league team, and until 2008 had a minor league hockey team that could restart operations again. One could arguably include the Round Rock Express as well, but I think the meaning of “pro” is clear enough, so let’s not belabor this.

It’s the definition of “city” where it gets complicated. The list of US cities by population confirms the Press’ assertion: Austin comes in at #14, with a population of 790,390, and every city ahead of it has at least one pro team as defined above. In fact, the next two largest cities without pro teams are also in Texas – #16 Fort Worth (741,206) and #19 El Paso (649,121). You have to go down to #27 Louisville (597,337) to find the first non-Texas example.

The reason why I hesitate to use this as the definition is that if you keep going down this list, you find some places that sure seem like they’re a lot bigger than that. Cities like #40 Atlanta (420,003), #44 Miami (399,457), or #58 Saint Louis (319,294), for instance, sure don’t seem like they’re half or less Austin’s size. What gives with that?

The answer, of course, is that nobody cares about the municipality in which a stadium is located, as any fan of the Arlington Rangers, East Rutherford Giants, or Auburn Hills Pistons can attest. Teams may be identified with a city, but it’s the wider area that actually supports the team. Austin is only the fifth-largest urban area without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernadino CA, Virginia Beach VA, Las Vegas NV, and Providence RI. It’s the third-largest MSA without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA and Las Vegas-Paradise NV. More to the point, those lists give you a much better representation of the true big population centers in the US. Having Atlanta at #9 makes a lot more sense than having it at #40, barely half the size of Austin. There’s a much larger discussion in all of this about how these large metro areas are governed and how that governance could be vastly streamlined and more effective if a bunch of otherwise arbitrary boundary lines were obliterated, but that’s way beyond my scope here. Point is, making that statement about Austin is technically correct but kinda misleading. Which shouldn’t stop you from reading the story, which would be blog-worthy in its own right if I had the energy for it. Just keep this in mind when you get to that sentence.

(*) – You can include MLS if you want, but a peek at their standings tells me that they do not have a team in any city that wouldn’t already be counted in the Big Four. And in case you’re wondering, Chivas US is in Los Angeles, and Columbus OH is also the home of the NHL Blue Jackets franchise.

Dynamo Stadium groundbreaking today

I presume things will be sufficiently de-iced for the ceremony today at 2 PM at the stadium site in the East End.

The stadium will have 22,000 seats, and the expansion capacity will be 30,000 over 340,000 square feet.

Populous, which was previously called HOK Sports, also designed Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and Reliant Stadium. Like those three stadiums, the Sports Authority will be the landlord for the Dynamo’s new stadium.

“Although (it’s) a very simple idea of a stadium, but it gives really sort of a dramatic punch,” [Populous’ Loren] Supp said. “And I think it really sticks out when you look at other stadiums that have been built both for other sports and for soccer worldwide actually.”

You can see pictures there, at Swamplot, and of course on the Dynamo website, where they have a Q&A with the architect. It all sounds quite cool. And someday, barring any malicious acts of Congress, you’ll be able to get there via light rail.

The Dynamo Stadium rebate plan

Well, this is interesting.

The city is poised to strike a 30-year deal giving back $3 million in projected sales tax to the Houston Dynamo as they prepare to construct their $60 million stadium.

City officials say the tax rebate always has been a part of the deal that kept the team from leaving Houston, one that will make the city and county owners of a new sports stadium for which they did not have to pay.

The rebate will amount to $3 million over 30 years, said Houston Chief Development Officer Andy Icken, a primary negotiator for the city on the deal.

“This was viewed as a trade-off to get this much public infusion for a stadium that, in the end, is getting donated to us,” Icken said. “We were never going to go into this unless there was a substantial private investment in the project.”

Icken said the deal mirrors sales tax rebates the city gave the Houston Texans when it negotiated over the future Reliant Stadium.

[…]

Icken denied that the rebate is a new element of the deal, pointing to a December memo he sent City Council members in which he said council would be asked to vote “to reimburse the team for a portion of sales and liquor taxes collected by the operations of the stadium.”

Councilman Mike Sullivan, who voted for the main elements of the deal struck last year between the city and Harris County, said he did not recall any discussion of such a rebate. “I think this evolved as negotiations have taken place with the city and the county, and we’re really just now seeing the changes,” he said.

First I’ve heard of it, too. It’s not really clear to me what this is about. It’s still the case that the Dynamo are spending the vast majority of the money to build the stadium, and it’s still the case that the deal is a good one overall, but the timing on this is lousy. The only thing I can say in its favor is that at least it came out before tomorrow’s Council vote.

How many soccer leagues are there?

I happened across this story about a new professional soccer team coming to San Antonio, and was struck by this bit:

[Team owner Gordon] Hartman and Aaron Davidson, CEO of the NASL, said that efforts by Spurs Sports & Entertainment to field a United Soccer Leagues franchise in San Antonio, also by 2012, won’t be a conflict. The NASL, Davidson stressed, is a second-division league only one step below Major League Soccer.

Two current NASL franchises, in Vancouver and Montreal, are scheduled to move up to MLS in 2012.

“I introduced the USL to the San Antonio Spurs and the Spurs to the USL, but the reality is that the world of soccer has changed,” said Davidson, whose Traffic Sports placed the Mexico-Dominica World Cup qualifier in the Alamodome in 2004. “The USL is now a third-division league.”

Okay, so there’s MLS, which with we in Houston are all familiar. There’s the North American Soccer League, which the new San Antonio Scorpions will be joining; speaking as someone who remembers the old New York Cosmos, the league name amuses me. And there’s the United Soccer League, which is apparently a lesser league than the NASL, which in turn is a lesser league than MLS. I had no idea there were this many pro soccer leagues in existence in the US. Clearly, WUSA was ahead of its time, though there is now a successor. Are there any other leagues out there, or is this all of them?

Dynamo Stadium lease deal reached

We didn’t get the World Cup, but soccer fans here had something to celebrate this week.

The Dynamo have agreed to pay $76 million to build a professional soccer stadium in downtown Houston and then lease it from the city and county for $65,000 a year.

The board of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, a joint city-county agency that acts as a pro sports stadium landlord, unanimously approved the deal Thursday morning. While the Dynamo will pay most of the cost of construction, the city and county will own the stadium.

Thursday’s approval sets the stage for construction to begin as early as next month just across U.S. 59 from the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The deal still has to be approved by Houston City Council and Commissioners Court, but I expect both to happen this month. Looking through the archives, the first mention I can find of “Dynamo Stadium” is just over four years ago, shortly after they had settled on the team’s name. You can’t say we’ve rushed this, that’s for sure. Construction is projected to take about 16 months, meaning the stadium may be open in time for the 2012 MLS season. In addition to being the home of the Dynamo and TSU football, the new stadium will also be a live music venue.

The Dynamo’s owners, entertainment giant AEG Worldwide, will be looking to book musical acts into the 22,000-seat stadium.

The Dynamo has worked out a somewhat informal non-compete clause with the Toyota Center, but there’s no such agreement with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

The Pavilion’s capacity is about 17,000; with field seats the new stadium could hold 25,000.

“We’re a larger venue…Our parent company is AEG, that’s their business, live entertainment and they do a lot of musical shows across the country,” Canetti said. ” So I suspect that we’ll be looking to do a handful of shows if not more in the new stadium.”

Canetti noted the Pavilion’s success. “I think they have a niche both in terms of where they’re located and the size of the venue and I think we’re going to provide something that’s just a little bit different for everybody.”

Sounds good to me.

Dynamo “Your Name Here” Stadium

In a conversation with the Chron, Tim Leiweke, the president of Dynamo co-owner AEG, discusses the next big item on their to-do list:

The naming rights is the next task at hand and it will be a hot priority, but we expect to be under construction at the end of the year. And believe it or not we are hopeful to open June 2012.

[…]

The naming rights become key because without them we are going to struggle on this project. We have made a decision not to tie everything into if we sell the naming rights. So much of the risk is going to be dependent upon the contractually obligated incomes that we are going to create in the stadium.

We have all of the agreements we need to sign and we have all of the revenue that we need to lock in and that is going to be an important part. We are fortunate that we have a bunch of people interested (in naming rights).

A couple of them are based here. They see this as an opportunity to be a good corporate citizen and at the same time it makes good financial sense to them. I think because of the nature we are financing this unlike any other stadium that we have built, people like the fact that we are stepping up in the private sector and bearing most of the load here.

They see themselves here as aligning with the right kind of project that won’t have a lot of controversy. They certainly see soccer as the sport of the future because 45 percent of the fans are Hispanic so we have a few of the companies that are very focused on our Hispanic audience.

Anyone want to try to guess whose name will eventually get attached to Dynamo Stadium? Let’s just hope they have better luck with this than the Astros had.

Dynamo Stadium coming along

A very brief update from the Chron:

Tim Leiweke, the president of Dynamo co-owner AEG, told the Chronicle that the Dynamo’s negotiations for a new stadium are completed for the most part and that he expects to break ground at the end of the year for the East End stadium scheduled to open in June 2012.

For all the time it took to get to this point, they deserve to have smooth negotiations and hassle-free construction.

Dynamo Stadium design

Wondering what the new Dynamo Stadium will be like? The Chron has some early information.

“We hope to be on site with a shovel in the ground by the end of this year,” said Dynamo general manager Oliver Luck, who took the primary role in lobbying county and city officials to help fund the $95 million project.

[…]

More than that, the Dynamo are excited to be downtown. As far as they’re concerned, the East End is prime real estate as they continue their quest to cement the franchise in the hearts of Houston sports fans.

“I think it’s a great location,” [Dynamo forward Brian] Ching said. “I’m just extremely excited that we got it downtown. Give credit to Oliver. He could have made a decision to go to the suburbs any time, and he didn’t. Being downtown adds a little to the credibility of a professional organization being right there.”

[…]

The playing field is expected to be 13 feet below grade, and the lower bowl will be cast in place concrete. The upper bowl will extend above grade.

Also, like nearby Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park, the major concourse will be at grade. As Astros fans do when they show up for a home game, Dynamo fans will enter the stadium through the main concourse on ground level.

The Dynamo plan to have a roof canopy on the east and west sidelines to protect fans against the sun and rain.

I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. I plan to attend some games once they’re in the new location, which is something I haven’t done before.

The story is wrapped around the question of how the new stadium will benefit area businesses. I don’t think there’s any question that it will be good for them, it’s a matter of how much. Note that this does not in any way contradict the research of sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, as he focused on the economic impact of a metropolitan area. Given that one effect is to relocate economic activity from one area to another, it seems likely that businesses in that area will benefit.

One thing to keep an eye on, which is also something Zimbalist talks about, is how often this stadium actually gets used. Between the Dynamo and TSU football, you’re talking 25 to 30 games a year. That’s a lot of idle time to fill to maximize the value of the place. What other events can and will eventually take place there? Since the Dynamo will make the largest investment in this construction, they’ll have a strong incentive to find that out and make it work for them.

One last time for the Dome and the Dynamo

I suppose now that the Dynamo have finally gotten an official commitment from all relevant parties to go forward with their downtown stadium idea that it was inevitable the question of why didn’t they just use the Astrodome came up again one last time. The answers really should be obvious, but let’s go over them again for old time’s sake.

Dynamo President Oliver Luck answers the question with questions of his own: What conditions would be imposed by Reliant Park’s other tenants, namely the rodeo and the Texans? Are certain dates blocked? What’s the infrastructure like inside the domed stadium?

It costs money and time to get answers, and Luck said he would need to know them before addressing the biggest question of all: “Would $60 million get you anywhere with the Astrodome?”

Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, which runs the Astrodome and the rest of the Reliant Park complex, said any conversion of the Dome would be “some multiple” of the $32 million still owed for the aging ballpark’s 1980s renovations.

“You’d have to consider it a substantial renovation project,” Loston said.

A building with 60,000 seats would need to be configured for 30,000 for soccer, turf would have to be installed and the building would have to be brought up to fire and building codes.

“It certainly is more than just hanging a Dynamo banner on the outside and starting to play games in there,” Loston said.

Right on queue, there’s a letter to the editor today from someone asking the “why not the Dome for the Dynamo” question. I’ve discussed this before, and to me it’s always come down to a simple question: Why would the Dynamo want to put $60 million or more of their own money into a stadium that isn’t a good fit for them and would likely cost a whole lot more than that to make it into something that might be? The Dome as configured would be a lousy fan experience and would cost too much to operate. Converting it into something suitable would be very expensive, and the end result might not look anything like what some folks are hoping to preserve. Far as I could tell, in all this time there’s been very little overlap between those who ever had attended or ever might attend a Dynamo game, and those who wondered why they just didn’t use the Astrodome. Maybe now people will finally stop asking about it. Elsewhere in the Chron, Council Member James Rodriguez sings the praises of the downtown stadium-to-be, and soccer writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz sings the praises of Dynamo President Oliver Luck.

Council approves Dynamo Stadium deal

Two down, one to go.

The Houston City Council unanimously approved an agreement this morning that is expected to pave the way for a new professional sports stadium for the Houston Dynamo and the Texas Southern University football team.

Although some council members voiced concerns about the finances of the $95 million public/private project, many came to view the deal to be in the city’s best interest.

[…]

The next step in the process will be Tuesday at Harris County Commissioners Court when the deal has to be approved by the county.

The first step was the Sports Authority agreeing to be the landlord. For those who are mumbling about spending money on a stadium at a time like this, note that the city spent the money to buy the land for the stadium site two years ago, and that part of the deal with the county is for them to kick in for half of that. In addition, having the Dynamo spend $60 million or so to build the stadium, at a time when the city has been bleeding construction jobs seems like a pretty decent little stimulus project to me. Just something to consider.

Dynamo Stadium deal tagged

While City Council was able to complete the Lakewood Church sale, they were not able to vote on the other major real estate deal on their agenda this week, as Council Member Jarvis Johnson put a tag on the Dynamo Stadium deal.

Johnson said he delayed the vote out of concern the stadium could put the city in violation of its contract with the Houston Rockets that no other municipal venue would be used to compete for major events, such as concerts, through 2013.

Last week, Johnson attended a committee meeting at which Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer, assured him that no events outside of Dynamo soccer and TSU football would be permitted at the new stadium through 2013, to avoid any conflict with the Rockets.

I don’t know what CM Johnson’s issue was, but if we’ve learned anything about Council by now it’s that tags are just a fact of life. It’s not clear that this will have any effect on the hoped-for completion in time for Opening Day 2012, but it did lead to this:

Councilman James Rodriguez, whose district encompasses the stadium’s planned location, expressed disappointment at the delay.

“I just wish that when council members have questions, that they would be addressed in the committee process, not this late in the game,” Rodriguez said.

Without further comment, he then tagged two items involving Johnson’s district.

And to think, some people believe politics is boring.

Sports Authority to become Dynamo Stadium landlord

One of the items on the to-do list after the city and county struck a deal on Dynamo Stadium was for the team to negotiate a lease for the stadium. The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority was proposed as the landlord, and now they have formally agreed to take that role.

The city and county asked the sports authority to negotiate a lease of publicly owned land to the Dynamo, to oversee construction and to run the completed stadium. The authority’s board unanimously passed a resolution to take on those tasks.

“This is kind of the last piece of the puzzle,” said David Turkel, director of the county’s Community Services Department. “Now that we have everything in place, our governing bodies can formally consider it.”

Attorneys for the three agencies will craft details of a formal agreement. The City Council, Commissioners Court and the authority board are scheduled to act on the deal in the next three weeks.

So there you have it. Start making plans for the groundbreaking ceremony. It’s all over but for the construction at this point.

Dynamo Stadium deal finally struck

Took ’em long enough.

The city of Houston and Harris County have struck a potential deal on a new stadium for the Houston Dynamo and Texas Southern University’s football team, agreeing to jointly pay for $20 million in infrastructure upgrades if the soccer team follows through with a commitment to foot the bill for the $60 million stadium construction costs.

The deal, outlined today in a City Council committee meeting, ended years of negotiations that began when the city purchased a $15 million parcel of land in January 2008. The county has agreed to pay for half those costs to finance the stadium, which would be built, pending approval from City Council and Commissioner’s Court, on land just east of Downtown bordered by Texas Avenue, Walker Street and Dowling Street.

So in the end it took a lot longer than it should have to wind up with what everyone thought it would be at the beginning. In other words, a lot like the health care reform bill, but with fewer Armageddon references and no frivolous lawsuits. Yet.

There are things that still need to be done.

Among the items on the to-do list:

• The Dynamo have to negotiate a lease;

• A new tax increment zone must be created, and the county must join it;

• The stadium’s parking must accommodate Astros parking as well.

“There are about 10 different agreements,” [City of Houston Chief Development Officer Andy] Icken said.

First things first, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority must agree to take on the role of negotiating with the Dynamo, which will be addressed at the board meeting on March 25.

Then the stadium could come back on the council agenda next week and Harris County Commissioner’s Court in two weeks.

There’s also the tricky matter of routing the East and Southeast light rail lines around the stadium site, but I suppose that’s a job for Metro. Good thing they have someone on the board who’s already thought of a good solution to that. If all goes well, the pieces should all be in place for construction to start in October and be finished in time for the Dynamo’s 2012 season opener. Assuming other factors have worked themselves out, anyway. Rick Casey has more.

Sports Authority to the rescue?

After many months in limbo, there may finally be a way forward for Dynamo Stadium, though it’s a somewhat convoluted path.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority board is scheduled on Monday to discuss becoming the landlord for a professional soccer stadium in Houston’s East End.

[…]

[Harris County Commissioner El Franco] Lee repeatedly has said that putting the soccer stadium on the Commissioner Court agenda is not his responsibility. Most of the proposed stadium site is in Lee’s Precinct 1, and the five-member Court consistently adheres to a protocol that puts each commissioner in charge of public works projects on his or her turf.

On Friday, just more than a week after [Mayor Annise] Parker and Lee met, a joint Houston-Harris County statement announced, “Both the City and County have asked the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority to take a limited administrative role in construction of a stadium.”

Harris County Community Services Department Director David Turkel, who has been the county’s lead negotiator on a stadium deal with the city, acknowledged it was Lee who asked that the Sports Authority get involved.

Should the Sports Authority’s board decide Monday to become a player in the deal, it would bring to the table an agency whose board is chaired by Lee’s campaign treasurer, J. Kent Friedman.

Sheesh. Swamplot quotes from a Houston Business Journal article that adds more:

Lee has steadfastly refused to comment on the issue, and did not respond to interview requests. Speaking in Lee’s place during several recent interviews, Turkel has become more guarded, citing the delicate situation and his desire to avoid hampering a possible agreement. In a nutshell, though, Lee wants concessions from the city and the team that he has not yet received.

“Lee is not comfortable putting it on the agenda as is, because it will get voted down,” Turkel says.

For one, the county is looking at who will own the stadium after the lease runs out in about 30 years, and how that would affect a deal in which the city would buy out the county’s share. Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia wants Dynamo family ticket packs priced comparably to movie tickets, which has been more or less agreed upon.

That quote from Turkel just doesn’t square with the way Commissioners Court runs its business. Wanting to get the Sports Authority involved, that makes more sense. It may be a logical move and a good fit to do this, but I think Judge Emmett is right to be concerned that it won’t make the politics of this deal any more popular. It’s also not clear what exactly the Sports Authority would be doing if it gets involved or why their involvement is needed. If they were an obvious piece of the puzzle, you’d think they’d have been mentioned before now. But if the bottleneck is El Franco Lee, and El Franco Lee says he wants the Sports Authority involved to get this moving, well, you do the math. We’ll see what comes out of Monday’s meeting.

Bellaire officially opposes Dynamo Westpark Stadium

Bellaire City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night that opposes the construction of a Dynamo Stadium on Westpark.

“To ignore it and not speak up for our residents would be the wrong thing to do,” said Mayor Cindy Siegel, after introducing the resolution, which stated:

“Whereas, the proposed Midway stadium site is not compatible with the existing Bellaire and Houston residential neighborhoods that surround this site and would negatively impact their quality of life with significant noise, traffic gridlock, cut-through traffic, event parking on the CenterPoint Energy easement immediately adjacent to Bellaire and Houston homes’ backyards, and overflow event parking on Bellaire and Houston residential neighborhood streets.”

The council vote came on the heels of continued negative reaction from residents after news of the Midway proposal surfaced in late January.

“The Dynamo stadium in that area would be a logistical nightmare,” said resident Cynthia Freeman to the council.

Councilman Will Hickman said he conducted a survey of 110 residents on the issue and revealed that 89 percent of the respondents oppose any stadium plan near city limits.

Mayor Siegel was an early opponent of this idea. The proposed location is outside the Bellaire city limits so the resolution has no force, but it is a pretty clear expression of what the locals want. Given that the folks on the East End are strongly in favor of the original downtown stadium idea, perhaps this will give that project another nudge. Dynamo President Oliver Luck certainly hasn’t given up on that.

Dynamo President Oliver Luck said the council’s resolution doesn’t change his thinking because he is already trying to make the downtown site work.

“We won’t say no to any other reasonable proposals until we have a shovel in the ground but certainly the East End has been our focus,” Luck said.

So you’ve got one location for which nearly all of the pieces are in place and there’s community support, and another location that would have to start from scratch and overcome opposition from its closest neighbors. Makes you wonder why we’re even having this conversation, doesn’t it? Instant News Bellaire has more.

East Enders appeal to El Franco

As we know, the main holdup with the proposed East End location for Dynamo Stadium is that County Commissioner El Franco Lee, in whose precinct the stadium site mostly sits, has not indicated that he intends to put the issue on the Court’s agenda. At this week’s meeting, he heard from some constituents who want to see this move forward.

Residents of the Houston East End said Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee was the key to the construction of a stadium for the Major League Soccer team Houston Dynamo — and accused him of stalling the project.

“Without the Dynamo I don’t think [this area] can survive,” said Khen Ly, the owner of the Kim Sung supermarket, east of Downtown Houston.

Residents pushed Harris County commissioners to sign off on the project Tuesday morning, but Lee refused to take a stand when pressed by East End resident Marilu De La Fuente.

“Mister [Lee], you are known as the Godfather,” she said. “I know know you will do the right thing.”

Much of the 12-acre site proposed for the stadium sits in Lee’s county precinct. He has stayed quiet on the subject for months. Again on Tuesday, he dodged reporters who wanted to ask him about his position.

It would be nice to have some idea of what Commissioner Lee’s reluctance is all about so that it might be addressed if possible, but he has never said. This is Senate-quality dithering here. All I can say to those of you in the area is to keep up the pressure. One presumes that sooner or later he’ll feel the need to deal with it. Thanks to Houstonist for the link.

Bellaire versus Westpark Stadium

Still more on the proposed Westpark location for Dynamo Stadium: The Mayor of Bellaire doesn’t like the idea.

[Bellaire Mayor Cindy] Siegel has scheduled an executive session of the Bellaire City Council Monday following the 7 p.m. State of the City address and indicated she’s optimistic other councilmembers will join her in opposing the 20,000-seat stadium that would reportedly double as a concert venue and feature a 3,000-vehicle parking structure.

“I would hope council would see the negative impact and would listen to residents, who I’m already hearing from by e-mail,” Siegel told the Examiner.

In that interview, she called the plans by the Midway Companies “a betrayal of the vision” that had been worked out among Bellaire, Metro, Thompson + Hanson Nursery and Midway. Those parties had funded an architect’s conceptual plan for a transit-oriented development at the location, in the southwest corner of the 610/59 intersection, bordered on the north by Westpark Drive.

But [County Commissioner Steve] Radack says Bellaire doesn’t have to sign off on the deal, and that he sees support for the private funding.

“Bellaire does not have jurisdiction over any of this…If this deal gets worked out then there will be a whole lot of citizens a lot happier by seeing private money being spent than public money being spent,” he told the Examiner’s Steve Mark.

Sounds an awful lot like Radack is telling Siegel to sit down and shut up. It’s true that this location is not inside Bellaire, but it’s right next to the boundary line, and for sure a stadium there would have an effect, mostly negative, on Bellaire. Mayor Siegel’s letter to Midway CEO Brad Freels lays it out:

Quite frankly, Brad, I have to tell you that I was blindsided by your company’s proposal to use your land at S. Rice and Westpark for a Dynamo stadium. This proposal is completely contrary to what was envisioned for the transit oriented development that included your property and the Bellaire Research and Development District (RDD) when Bellaire, Metro, Thompson and Hanson, and Midway shared the cost of an architect to develop a conceptual plan for a transit oriented development at this location. As I have stated at every joint meeting that your company has attended with Metro and City of Bellaire officials – our primary concern has always been to protect the integrity of the Bellaire residential neighborhood directly south of this site, in addition to protecting the interests of the Bellaire property owners in the RDD.

In reviewing your plans further over the weekend and driving by the site Monday during the day and rush hour traffic in the evening. I cannot see any benefit to locating a soccer stadium (that would also be used as an outdoor entertainment facility) at your site. I believe strongly that the proposed stadium site on your property has serious limitations and will have an extremely negative impact to the residential Bellaire and Houston neighborhoods that adjoin your property and the RDD. As we discussed, the S. Rice and Westpark intersection already experiences significant delays due to traffic backups. (This traffic problem has been discussed several times in prior meetings regarding the placement of a Metro Rail transit station here.) Additionally, traffic backs from Fournace on the 610 Feeder road up to Westpark daily during evening rush hour. A stadium at this site would just increase exponentially what is already a significant traffic problem!

Additionally, there is an existing traffic problem at the 610 and 59 interchange that has been a tremendous drain on emergency personnel responding to accidents that would be compounded further if the stadium was built on your site. Bellaire and Houston emergency personnel (but primarily Bellaire) already respond s several times a day to accidents at this location. To add stadium traffic to what is already a horrible problem would be a financial and manpower resource burden that Bellaire cannot accommodate.

My in-laws live near there, so I can attest to the traffic issues in that area from personal experience. I do think that the University line will help to abate that somewhat, but it won’t be enough. Besides, last I checked that area wasn’t very walkable, so either parking is going to have to be right there, or a whole lot of money is going to have to be spent on infrastructure improvements. In response, Freels and Radack appear to be telling Mayor Siegel that she shouldn’t worry her little head about it.

The Midway site is in Radack’s Precinct 3.

“I think that that (Midway) area needs a shot in the arm and I believe when the Dynamo are playing, it’s not peak times for traffic,” Radack said.

Freels made much the same point.

“I think when she understands the plan in toto she’ll embrace it,” Freels said. “I wish she would have full information before she makes full judgment.”

Well, maybe if fuller information were available, we could all make fuller judgments, but how much more do you need to know to say this is going to affect traffic in that area? As for Radack’s pronouncement, looking through Dynamo schedules for past years (the 2010 schedule hasn’t been published yet), they have played most of their games on weekends. I don’t know if that’s been to accommodate UH, or if that’s just the norm. If that’s how it would be going forward, then it would lessen the impact somewhat, but the inclusion of retail properties on the site would have the opposite effect. Again, until someone does a study and produces a report, we’re all just guessing. I do remain convinced that none of this can happen without some public money being spent to improve the infrastructure around Midway, and as I said before, it’s not at all clear to me that this site would require less public spending than the east downtown one. It’s just too early to say. More on this from the Examiner here, with video from KTRK.

UPDATE: Bellaire City Council Member Corbett Parker has more.

More on the Dynamo’s Westpark option

Here’s an updated version of the earlier story about the Houston Dynamo and the possibility of their stadium being built on Westpark.

“The deal downtown started stalling a little bit. We started wondering if that stadium could make sense at this property,” said Brad Freels, chairman and CEO of Midway.

Freels envisions a 21,000-seat soccer and concert arena as part of a multi-use project on 30 acres the company owns at the intersection of Westpark Toll Road and South Rice. The property is just west of the 610 Loop, about a mile south of the Galleria.

Mayor Annise Parker said she has been briefed on the plan.

“It is a completely privately financed alternative, which I’m glad to see on the table,” she said. “This is an excellent option that takes the city taxpayers largely or completely out of the loop on this.”

Parker noted that the city would consider contributing infrastructure work or tax abatements to the Midway development, just as it would any other large project.

The main difference seems to me to be that the land for the downtown site was bought by the city, while this site is owned by Midway. I feel confident that it’s still the case that the city would need to contribute in some form, as noted by Mayor Parker. It’s just a question of how much, and as I said before I think traffic will be a bigger issue at this location, so the infrastructure work may well be more expensive as well. I hope we get a handle on that before any commitments are made.

The Dynamo contemplate their options

Is the future of Dynamo Stadium on Westpark? Could be.

Dynamo President Oliver Luck is in talks with a developer about building a soccer stadium on private land about a mile south of the Galleria.

The Dynamo have not abandoned plans to build on a 12 acres of city-owned land downtown, Luck said.

But the Midway Companies approached Luck recently with a concept that would put the stadium in the midst of a 30-acre mixed-used development just west of Loop 610.

“They have not yet presented a full-blown plan to us,” Luck said. “It’s an interesting location and certainly worth looking at.”

Swamplot had the first inklings of this, while Miya, Prime Property, and Hair Balls have more. The good news is that this location appears to be near a University Line station. The bad news is that vehicular access is pretty limited, and I would expect traffic getting in and out to suck. I’d call this better than nothing, but not better than the downtown location. If as Hair Balls indicates, however, that Commissioners Court considers this to be the city’s baby and not any of their business, then it may get serious consideration. I just wonder, if it comes to that, how much money the city and/or county will have to spend at that location to make it viable, not just for a soccer stadium but for that 30-acre mixed use development. The roads are narrow, there are no sidewalks, and I’d bet drainage will be an issue. Midway CEO Brad Freels may say he likes doing things through the private sector, but I don’t see him putting up the cash to fix those things. I think it’s fair to wonder not just if this is a better deal for the Dynamo, but if this is any better a deal for Houston and Harris County than downtown would be.

Dynamo fans rally for the stadium

There was a rally by Houston Dynamo fans over the weekend in support of getting the stadium deal done. Hair Balls and the Chron’s Glenn Davis have coverage. From what I can see, it looks to me like the ralliers have the right idea. From the Chron:

“This is the best stadium deal that has ever been presented in the city of Houston,” says Dynamo fan and local attorney Eric Nordstrom. “At a time of great uncertainty, the club stands ready to pour $60 million of its own money into the stadium. Opponents often insist if the club wants a new stadium they should pay for it themselves. That is exactly what the Dynamo are trying to do.”

That’s the message I would push if I were them. It’s been clear for some time now that the opposition to the stadium is from folks who believe that the city and/or county are proposing to spend millions of dollars on the construction, which isn’t the case at all. I think you have to bat that idea down to make some progress on it. Which isn’t to say that opponents would naturally favor the TIRZ approach, but at least then you can be arguing about what is actually on the table.

From Hair Balls:

According to Nordstrom, this rally was the first of three they hope to organize. The supporters hope to hear from team officials and political leaders at the next rally, namely Mayor Annise Parker and County Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and El Franco Lee. The next rally is scheduled on Saturday, February 20.

Those are the people they need to be focusing on, especially the latter two. My advice would be to do the old-fashioned letter-writing campaign, and to get people to attend Commissioners Court meetings and speak up for the TIRZ deal during open comments as well. I wish them luck in their pursuit.

Post-election Dynamo Stadium update

So where do we stand with Dynamo Stadium now that the Mayoral election is over? Pretty much where we were before it, actually.

Of the MLS teams pushing for a stadium, the Dynamo appear closest to the goal. Team ownership hopes to strike a deal with the city of Houston and Harris County for a 22,000-seat, $80 million venue just east of U.S. 59 downtown.

Under a proposal backed by Houston mayor Bill White, the Dynamo would contribute nearly $60 million to the project, with the city and county each contributing $10 million in redevelopment money. The money would come from a tax increment reinvestment zone.

Mayor-elect Annise Parker has said she supports the proposal.

“She’s OK with the amount of money the city is willing to invest” provided the county puts in its share, Janice Evans-Davis, Parker’s spokeswoman, said Monday. “She is not OK with putting any additional city dollars (into the project).”

County Judge Ed Emmett is optimistic a deal will be reached. But the proposal has yet to see the light of day at Commissioners Court despite more than a year of negotiations among the county, city and team.

Efforts to reach County Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 would house the majority of the stadium, were unsuccessful.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia is also involved, as the parts of the stadium that aren’t in Lee’s precinct are in hers. The ball is in their court. If they want this to happen, it will, and if they don’t, it won’t. The question then becomes what if anything will the Dynamo do after that. Will they try to come up with a different scheme, or will they look to pull up stakes and relocate again? If they threaten the latter – and note that they may reconsider suburban options, as Sugar Land is still thinking about sports stadia, even if it’s for a different sport. Would a threat to leave change things one way or another? It wouldn’t shock me to find out. Campos has more.

A city-county threefer?

In case you were wondering why there didn’t seem to be any progress in making a Dynamo Stadium deal, it appears the reason for that is there will be much more to it than just a stadium deal.

The city of Houston and Harris County are negotiating a deal that could pave the way for construction of a new soccer stadium, a new jail and the redevelopment of the Astrodome, according to officials taking part in the talks.

The negotiations, which have been under way for several months and are reaching their final stage, focus on the use of tax increment reinvestment zones, or TIRZ, as vehicles for the major capital projects.

“We’re in the home stretch,” said David Turkel, director of the county’s community services department, who has played a key role in the talks. “I hope that we could get all of this done as one package before the end of the year, within the current administrations.”

Turkel said the concept is ideal for the county because it allows major expenditures on capital projects without using general funds or necessitating a tax increase to pay for the debt such projects would require. It also allows the county to sell bonds without voter approval.

The city’s motivation in the discussions is to win two concessions: county participation in a TIRZ established to build a stadium for the Dynamo, Houston’s Major League Soccer team, as well as a new detention facility that would be operated by the county and replace the city’s two jails, which a court-appointed inspector recently said must be replaced soon because of poor conditions. A bond referendum to fund a similar facility that would have been run by Harris County was defeated by voters last year.

The county would in turn use tax increments from city-created TIRZs to borrow money that would make possible numerous major capital projects including the jail or other detention facilities, a new downtown administration building with an underground garage, a new cemetery for the indigent and as much as $1 million a year for homeless housing.

Quite a bit there, no? I’ve been supportive of a Dynamo Stadium deal and am glad to see it coming to fruition. I really had no idea what was taking the county so long on this, as the TIRZ plan struck me as being a pretty small commitment for Commissioners Court to make.

It’s not clear what this all has to do with the Astrodome other than a new TIRZ being created by the city for the county around the Dome. The story doesn’t say anything more about the Dome than that.

As for the jail stuff, I’ll say it again: If we’re just talking about building a replacement facility for the city, I’m okay with that, at least in theory. If this is a back-door way to add more jail space as a “solution” to the overcrowding problem, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s all in the deails, and if this really is going to be a transparent process as promised in the story, we need to know those details as soon as possible. At least we know that any specific future project would have to be approved by Commissioners Court.

Finally, Grits says this is a misuse of the TIRZ statute, which suggests to me the possibility of a lawsuit. That would change the calculus even if this is only for a city jail replacement. Can any lawyers comment on that?

MLS All Star Game coming to Houston

Nice.

As the MLS All-Stars prepare to take on English Premier League club Everton in Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game in Sandy, Utah, the league announced Monday that Houston will host the 2010 edition.

“The city of Houston has consistently and fervently supported the Dynamo and other high-profile soccer events in recent years,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber, who joined Dynamo president Oliver Luck in Park City, Utah, for the announcement. “Houston will be a tremendous site for the 2010 MLS All-Star Game, and we are pleased to reward its vibrant soccer community with the week of festivities that surround this marquee event.”

The date, opponent and venue for the event — either Robertson Stadium, home to the Dynamo, or the much bigger Reliant Stadium — will be announced at a later date.

[…]

The Dynamo had been pushing for either an MLS All-Star Game or an MLS Cup final since the team relocated from San Jose, Calif.

Still, Luck said the selection caught the team somewhat by surprise, considering it is one of the few MLS clubs without a stadium of its own.

“We knew we were operating at a disadvantage,” said Luck, whose team has been negotiating a stadium deal with the city of Houston and Harris County for more than 11/2 years. “I think this shows MLS has really warmed up to Houston.”

Most other leagues would have said something like “When you build the stadium, you’ll get the event”. You don’t think it’s a coincidence or a run of good luck that we got the Super Bowl and the MLB and NBA All Star Games in recent years, do you? In the meantime, I hope this game is at Reliant. I’d buy a ticket for that. Congrats to the Dynamo for getting this done.

The squiggle

So now we know that the new soccer stadium is likely to happen, even though Commissioners Court continues to take its sweet time about it. We know that the new light rail lines, including the Southeast and Harrisburg lines, are on their way soon as well. And we know that these two things together will cause a break in the downtown traffic grid that needs to be addressed. The good news is that there’s a way to do this that will benefit both rail and automotive traffic. Christof has the details.

Dynamo moving forward

Dynamo Stadium has been in the works for a long time, but depending on how things go this month, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

[T]he Dynamo view this month as pivotal in their quest to go from a routine archeological dig to a bowl excavation and from renderings to the real thing — all the while staying on schedule and on budget.

“May is a make-or-break month,” [team president Oliver] Luck said. “In the sense that it is important we get into this building by 2011.

“To use a soccer analogy, we’re in extra time now.”

The Dynamo want to have the roughly $85 million, 22,000-seat stadium ready for opening day 2011. They envision an all-round two-level, all-seater venue with 34 suites, 86 concession point-of-sales, a 3,000 square-foot club level and a party deck on the southeast corner.

[…]

For it to be ready on schedule, work on the 16- to 18-month project would have to start no later than this fall.

For that to happen, Luck said, the team will need to complete its financing package agreement with the city and have the county, by way of Commissioners Court, vote in favor of contributing $10 million to the project (an amount similar to what the city would contribute) by joining the city’s East Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which includes the site.

“No one wants to commit until all the financing is lined up,” Luck said.

[…]

The Dynamo could check the city off their to-do list this month. The city and team ownership have concurred the parties are close on most points. Getting the county on board might take longer. Though discussions are ongoing, there has been no signal from the county commissioners suggesting the issue will be added to Commissioners Court agenda any time soon.

The good news for the Dynamo is that they secured the financing to cover the city and county’s share of the price, which will be rebated to them in the form of TIRZ revenues, assuming both bodies approve that plan. Because of that, they should be in a position to go forward even if Commissioners Court drags its feet. Seems like this has already gone on forever, but the end is getting closer.

Dynamo Stadium funding almost secured

Another step forward for Dynamo Stadium.

Dynamo ownership has all but secured all of the financing needed for the construction of an $80-million soccer stadium just east of downtown and plans to break ground on the project as early as this fall.

“We have some I’s to dot and t’s to cross, but things are looking very favorable,” Dynamo president Oliver Luck said Tuesday. “It’s not a done deal, but the principal points have been agreed upon.”

Dynamo co-owners Anschutz Entertainment Group, Brener International and boxer/promoter Oscar De La Hoya have secured financing totalling about $20 million on behalf of the City of Houston and Harris County through Spanish bank BBVA/Compass.

The development clears the way for city council and commissioner’s court to put the stadium item on their respective agendas.

Both government entities have committed tax increment reinvestment zone revenue streams to the project provided the Dynamo could find a bank to provide financing up front, Luck said.

“We spent about three months talking to banks,” Luck said. “Given the economic climate, finding a bank was a challenge, so we are appreciative of BBVA/Compass.”

Dynamo ownership has pledged $55-60 million in private funding for the proposed 20,000 capacity facility stadium to be located near the intersection of Texas and Dowling, just east of downtown and U.S. 59.

KHOU has more.

[The Stadium] will seat 21,000 fans and will have around 35 suites.

The Dynamo say they hope to keep the average ticket price under $20.

Construction will begin in the fall and is expected to take about 18 months.

That would enable them to be in place for the 2011 season. If they’re really lucky, there will be a functioning light rail line with stops right in front by then. That may have to wait till 2012, however.

There are still hurdles to overcome – the money isn’t in hand yet, and the whole thing still needs Council approval and the TIRZ funding from Commissioners Court – but those pieces will likely fall into place. Of course, I thought things would be settled a year ago, so don’t go counting any chickens just yet.

UPDATE: Today’s version of this story indicates that Commissioners Court is still an obstacle.

Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 would house most of the stadium, said no agreement is in place.

“There is nothing that I’m about to put on the agenda at all,” Lee said. “There’s nothing happening on that.”

[…]

Most of the stadium — to be located near the corner of Texas and Dowling, just east of downtown and U.S. 59 — falls in Lee’s precinct, while a smaller portion is in [Commissioner Sylvia] Garcia’s precinct.

Mark Seegers, a spokesman for Garcia, said a number of issues remain to be resolved, particularly involving the availability of affordable tickets for low-income families.

“Nothing is imminent in terms of this item appearing before Commissioners Court,” Seegers said.

These things can turn around quickly, but it’s clear the Dynamo still have their work cut out for them.