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Ohio sues MLS, Columbus Crew owners to stop the team from relocating

Ohio’s attorney general wants to see if the “Art Modell Law” will stand up in court.

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York City at Columbus Crew Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus’ effort to save the Crew is heading to the courts. On Monday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the city of Columbus sued Columbus Crew SC owners Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer in an attempt to ensure that Ohio law regarding the potential relocation of sports teams is enforced.

In 1996, the Cleveland Browns abruptly left town and relocated to Baltimore, devastating fans. The Ohio legislature responded by passing a statute known as the “Art Modell law,” named after the Browns/Ravens owner, forces an owner of a sports team that uses public resources to give six months notice of their intention to relocate and give local people and municipalities a chance to purchase the team. DeWine previously threatened to invoke the law in December.

Crew owner Anthony Precourt has his heart set on moving the team to Austin, Texas. He’s singularly focused on scouring the area to find the perfect site for a shiny new soccer stadium. When asked by Kirk Bohls of the Austin Statesman if he’d consider selling the team, Precourt replied, “I’m not a seller.” Unfortunately for Precourt, it might not be up to him under Ohio law.

“Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars,” DeWine said in a statement. “I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed.”

The state of Ohio and city of Columbus outline five specific benefits that the Crew have received that they believe make the team subject to the law.

The lawsuit alleges that the Crew SC and its affiliates have:

• accepted the benefits of approximately $5 million in state taxpayer-funded improvements to their parking facilities.

• accepted state property tax exemption for the land on which the Crew SC’s home field, Mapfre Stadium, sits.

• leased that land from the state at a below-market rate.

• accepted more than $300,000 in city taxpayer-funded reimbursements of their costs in moving portions of a storm sewer and constructing a water line.

• entered into a Tax Increment Financing and Economic Development Agreement with the city of Columbus to extend Silver Drive to increase access to Mapfre Stadium currently costing the city $1.3 million in tax revenue with the potential total cost of more than $2.1 million.

The Modell law has not yet been tested in court, and presumably none of the parties in this lawsuit care to find out if it will hold up. They’ll all want to find a solution before getting into a long, drawn-out fight about the law’s constitutionality. But this lawsuit should force talks between the parties to move along much more quickly, and gives fans a glimmer of hope that their team might be sticking around beyond this season.