MLS in 'ongoing' talks over Columbus' plans should Crew move to Austin - Don Garber
ATLANTA -- MLS commissioner Don Garber said that conversations with the city of Columbus "are ongoing" to determine a path forward should Columbus Crew SC relocate to Austin, Texas.
Garber, speaking to media following the unveiling of a new soccer "mini-pitch" at Atlanta's Anderson Park, was asked for his thoughts on the current state of the Crew, whose owner Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) is attempting to move the team to the Texas capital. The Austin City Council has scheduled a vote for Aug. 9 in order to determine if the city will accept a deal with PSV to build a privately financed, $200 million, 20,000-seat stadium at McKalla Place.
"There's obviously an important vote on Aug. 9, and there's not much we can really say or do until the city council determines their view," said Garber. "I would hope [for] their approval on working with [PSV] on the McKalla site."
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the City of Columbus are also in litigation regarding an Ohio state law that would require PSV to give notice of six months before it can move as well as give local investors the opportunity to purchase the team.
But Garber added that he has sent MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott to Columbus on multiple occasions to see if there was a way forward. An MLS spokesman added that Abbott's most recent visits took place "in the last 4-6 weeks."
"[Abbott has] met with the city to talk about what we might do together should the Crew leave Columbus," said Garber. "Those conversations are ongoing. I'm hopeful that we'll come up with a resolution that's going to be good for the city, good for ownership, good for the Crew and good for the fans."
It would appear that Garber's characterization of Abbott's visits refer to meetings with the Columbus Partnership and not the City of Columbus itself.
"Mark Abbott has not met with any members of Mayor [Andrew] Ginther's administration," a spokesperson for Mayor Ginther's office told ESPN FC. "He has met with the Columbus Partnership to explore options for private investors and local investors to keep the Crew in Columbus. To my knowledge there were no conversations about the Crew leaving Columbus."
Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer has been encouraged by Abbott's recent visits, and said he feels that it's a priority for the league to keep a team in Columbus, which he described as "a big attitude change".
Garber reiterated his stance that MLS is reluctant to see the Crew leave Columbus.
"You've heard me say many times, moving a team is never something that any league wants to do," he said. "We are where we are, and we've accepted the fact that we have real challenges there, and we're going to try and come up with an alternative that ultimately long term is going to be the best one for MLS."
On the topic of expansion, Garber indicated that a number of expansion hopefuls will be attending the All-Star Game, and that the level of interest "continues to grow."
"We've had some interesting conversations with Phoenix of late," he said. "We're tracking very closely with our friends in San Diego and they have a key vote coming up in the fall. The Sacramento bidders will be here, they've come to the last number of big MLS events. They remain encouraged on finalizing their capital structure."
Garber was then asked about St. Louis' prospects, and he not only refused to count that city out, but essentially said the same about the remaining candidates as well, some of whom have made little to no headway in terms of advancing their city's candidacy.
"I don't think it's ever dead in any city," he said. "Look how long it took us to get a stadium built in D.C. These things go through an arc, and right now the ownership group [in St. Louis] that was bidding wasn't able to come up with a package with the public that made economic sense for them. But I believe in the St. Louis market. I belive in the group that Paul Edgerley put together, and I never say never to anything. I've been doing this for a long time."
Las Vegas, while not one of the original 12 expansion candidates submitted to the league 18 months ago, has been mentioned as a possible MLS expansion city, and currently boasts USL side Las Vegas Lights FC. But Garber appeared to downplay that possibility.
"I believe that if we're going to be in communities like that, we need indoor stadiums," he said. "We can't schedule all of our games at night in every city across the country. We'll wait and see."