Austin stadium vote could trigger Columbus Crew move to Texas

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas' thriving capital city may finally become a major league sports town. It will just take moving a bedrock franchise of Major League Soccer out of its home turf to do it.

Anthony Precourt, owner of the Columbus Crew , has been pushing for months to move his team to Austin, the largest city in the country without a major professional sports franchise.

While the league front office has supported Precourt's desire to look around for a new city, picking up and relocating from Ohio to uber-hip Austin hasn't been easy. It hasn't been a slam-dunk deal in Austin and the state of Ohio is suing to block the move. Fan groups in Columbus have rallied to try to save their team, the 2008 MLS champion which was one of league's founding clubs when it started in 1996.

The Austin City Council will vote Thursday on whether to make land available and authorize negotiations for a new $200 million, 20,000-seat privately financed stadium for the Crew. Precourt's original hopes for a picturesque riverfront location downtown were quickly scuttled, but plans have shifted to build near a fast-growing business, shopping and housing development.

Other Austin developers are also interested in the site. Several City Council members have questioned whether the stadium is the best use of the land and the vote on the stadium plan is expected to be close.

If the stadium plan is approved, the Crew will likely chart a course to become the third MLS franchise in Texas by 2019, joining Houston and Dallas. Where the Crew would play until the stadium is built is yet to be determined.

Precourt has been eyeing Austin since he bought the team in 2013. His purchase agreement included a promise to keep the Crew 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 intention 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.

Major League Soccer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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