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Crew SC: Area lawmakers differ on state money for Downtown soccer stadium

(October 18, 2017) — Local state lawmakers don’t want to see the Columbus Crew SC leave, but they differ on the lengths they are willing to go to keep the team in town after owners announced their intent to relocate if they don’t get a new, Downtown stadium.

Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, is eager to help the team stay.

“I want to do whatever I can if the ship has not yet sailed to keep them here,” Bacon said.

Having a stadium Downtown, he said, would boost the Crew’s attendance, and he likened it to when the Columbus Clippers moved Downtown to Huntington Park.

“I’d surely consider it,” Bacon said, when asked about using money in the state capital budget to build a Downtown stadium.

He said it’s hard to comment on specifics until he sees a proposal, and he would ultimately have to see if it’s a true value for taxpayers.

Crew SC will play at Mapfre Stadium in 2018, but Precourt Sports Ventures has made it clear they will move the franchise to Austin, Texas without a Downtown, soccer-specific stadium.

The stadium at the Ohio Expo Center first opened under the name Crew Stadium on May 15, 1999. At the time, it was the first stadium in the nation to be built specifically for a Major League Soccer team.

If a new stadium were to be built, Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, is not in favor of it being built Downtown. Between parking and the crowds, she said, Downtown can’t hold every Columbus team and attraction. It already has the Clippers and the Blue Jackets.

“I think we should spread out venues,” Tavares said.

She would be more on board, however, if the owners purchase land Downtown, finance it with business owners and work with city zoning.

Tavares said she would not consider using money in the capital budget to build a Downtown stadium.

“Why use tax dollars to subside a for-profit business?” she asked.

Anthony Precourt said he and his ownership group are not seeking public tax dollars to build a stadium in Columbus or Austin. Precourt Sports Ventures has owned the Crew since 2013.

When it comes to supporting a plan to build a Downtown stadium, Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, first wants to see how the plan would be executed.

She also has reservations about using state capital funds for a stadium “unless it has strategic … long-term impact on the economy.”

Megan Henry is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.