The project to develop a new stadium that would deliver a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise to Austin has come under threat after an opposition group filed a petition that could make the deal eligible for a vote.

The City of Austin last month sealed a deal with Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) for the development of a $225m (£177.3m/€196.1m) stadium housing an MLS expansion franchise earmarked for launch in 2020 or 2021.

Groundbreaking for the over 20,000-seat, privately funded stadium has been pencilled in for this year and the facility is scheduled to open in the spring of 2021. The city-owned 24-acre parcel of land has been vacant for over 25 years and will be transformed into a state-of-the-art park and stadium, which will be entirely funded by PSV, including all construction costs and operating expenses during the course of the club’s lease of the stadium from the City.

However, a group entitled Friends of McKalla Place, where the stadium will be located, yesterday (Thursday) said it had filed a petition with 29,000 signatures at City Hall. The Austin-American Statesman newspaper said that if enough of the signatures are verified, it would require the city to either adopt the petition’s proposed ordinance or potentially hold an election on the stadium.

The Statesman noted that the ordinance would not be a direct referendum on the stadium deal, instead calling for future elections on agreements for stadia or concert venues that are built on city-owned land.

The petition effort has reportedly been paid for by a political action committee funded by Bobby Epstein, chair of the Circuit of the Americas motorsport venue in Austin. Epstein is behind Austin Bold FC, a United Soccer League (USL) franchise that is set to begin play in March, and is concerned that having an MLS team in the same city could damage his club.

The Statesman added that last month’s deal between the City and PSV would allow the latter to cancel the contract if any voter referendum or initiative is passed that is deemed to undermine the project.

“This deal is a poor policy decision and it places a huge burden on Austin taxpayers just so a California billionaire can turn a profit on his professional sports team,” a spokesperson for Friends of McKalla Place said in a statement reported by the Pro Soccer USA website.

“The lease terms were rushed through under false deadlines and a flashy PR campaign, and this giveaway of hundreds of millions of dollars in lost property taxes means local businesses, homeowners and renters will have to make up the difference.”

Image: Austin FC