COTA soccer stadium construction started before approved permits

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Construction crews at Circuit of the Americas violated the city land development code while building the Austin Bold FC soccer stadium, according to city staff.

Crews began work on major parts of the stadium more than a month before city permits were approved.

COTA officials tell KXAN the city knew about the construction and worked in “lockstep” with them to build the stadium before the Austin Bold FC’s first game on March 30. 

“Everything was pretty much on a fast track. The entire time the city was in lockstep with us, AFD (Austin Fire Department) was in lockstep with us,” said Rick Abbott, COTA’s Executive Vice President of Operations. “We had to put a lot of things together pretty quickly.”

Sylvia Arzola, the public information and marketing manager for the city’s Development Services Department, confirms to KXAN the grandstands, media building, and locker room were all under construction before the city approved the work.

Building Official for the city’s Development Services Department, Beth Culver, says she believes Abbott’s description of working in “lockstep” is not accurate.

“They have been told to not do work without a permit. They’ve been told that on several occasions, not just in regards to this project,” said Culver, who says she found out about crews working on the stadium in late February and didn’t know the extent of the work completed until March.

“We’ve had a lot of concern about them having the event without completing the permit so we had to make some decisions before that first game on what we would allow them to use or not use,” said Culver.

The team had a “symbolic groundbreaking” for the $5 million, 5,000 person stadium in October.

COTA applied for construction permits from the City on January 15, according to COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein, who spoke to KXAN in a phone interview. Crews began construction on the grandstands in early February but did not get city permit approval until March 23: a week before the first soccer game. 

City staff issued COTA a temporary certificate of occupancy (TCO) for Austin Bold FC’s first game on March 30. That certificate expired April 1 and COTA must obtain another one for the second game on April 17.  Abbott says the TCO for the next game with be obtained by the end of the week. Without a TCO, the next game cannot go on. 

“If you don’t have a certificate, you don’t have an event,” Epstein said.

In the original TCO, city staff says Circuit of the Americas was not permitted to use the locker room or the media building but the field and the grandstands were approved.

General Manager of the Austin Bold, Roberto Silva, wrote KXAN the unfinished locker rooms were an “inconvenience to the players but not the fans.” 

“COTA enjoys a wonderful relationship as it relates to the city, with the AFD, with the police departments, with all the safety organizations,” Abbott said. “So we never actually saw this as a big issue.”

Abbott says most of the grandstands were built off-site and then transported to the COTA field. 

City staff says it’s too early to tell if punishment, fines, or corrective action will come out of this. Right now, DSD sees the project as an active construction site so city staff’s priority is to get the project into compliance with city code. 

Culver tells KXAN the city could issue a stop-work order but she says usually when someone works without a permit, the corrective action is to get a permit. COTA is trying to get a permit currently, it’s pending, or listed as “active” on the city’s online portal.

Staff will evaluate the next steps when the stadium is complete.  The next home game for the Austin Bold will be April 17th. COTA officials hope to have another temporary certificate of occupancy by the end of this week. 

According to the city’s website, the Development Services Department assists “homeowners, business owners, and contractors when they build, demolish, remodel or perform any type of construction to ensure compliance with applicable city and building codes.”

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