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Soccer In Ward 8?

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty takes questions from the Anacostia Coordinating Council. (By David Nakamura--TWP)

To build a soccer stadium or not to build one? That has been the question for months and now it looks as if the city is ready to commit to a financing plan, as we reported in today's Post.

The news was dribbling out yesterday, coincidentally the same day that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty was scheduled to visit Ward 8, where the stadium would be built, to address the Anacostia Coordinating Council. The ACC, a collection of business leaders and community activists, has been one of the most vocal organizations backing the stadium idea. Philip Pannell, a longtime Ward 8 activist and ACC leader, has been consulting on the proposed project for D.C. United for more than a year.

The mayor arrived to an audience of about 60 last evening at the city's Unified Command Center. Among the crowd were former D.C. Council member Arrington Dixon, D.C. Vote organizer Eugene DeWitt Kinlow, business leader James Bunn, Linda Greene (a former aide to Marion Barry), ANC leaders Anthony Muhammad and Jackie Ward, Charles Wilson (head of the Historic Anacostia Block Association) and Yavocka Young (of Main Street Anacostia). Barry, a key stadium supporter, was not in attendance.

Fenty gave his standard stump speech, reciting what he counts as achievements in his 17 months in office, focusing mostly on schools, public safety and development. Once the Q and A began, it did not take long for James Bunn, head of the Ward 8 Business Council, to hit Fenty with the money question, asking the mayor to commit to building a stadium.

Fenty has reportedly been reluctant to take the lead on the project, considering he voted against the baseball stadium as a council member. He answered somewhat cryptically, saying he hoped a deal would be done soon, but adding: "We're not there yet, as of"-- he looked at his watch -- "7:15 p.m. tonight."

The crowd turned its attention to other issues, including nuisance properties, transportation concerns and schools. How much support there is for a soccer stadium in Ward 8 remains unclear. Barry's supporters have been vocal, saying a stadium would be the anchor to the larger Poplar Point development being planned along the Anacostia River and would draw new people to the ward. But some in the Fenty administration believe the pro-stadium contingent could well represent a small minority of the ward. Other residents have been lukewarm or outright hostile to the idea.

What could be most revealing will be how the soccer stadium decisions play out in the fall elections. Barry is up for reelection and several residents, including Wilson and Young, have expressed interest in challenging him. While he may not be vulnerable, other council members, including Kwame Brown (D-At Large), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) are also running again and they will have to weigh their positions. Of the three, Alexander has been most supportive publicly of a stadium.

By David A Nakamura  |  May 28, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  City Life , David Nakamura  
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Would the new DC pro women's team also play in this stadium? How many US national team games would be placed there? Honestly I'm not a huge fan of public financing for stadiums, but maybe this would be a good investment to draw out-of-towners like me into Ward 8, where I don't think I've ever been before except while driving through. (I have a half-season ticket to DC United.)

Posted by: fallschurch1 | May 28, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Look, I love soccer... I go to Summers and watch the English Premier League all the time (go Everton!). Now I wish I didn't have to say this, but: American soccer is just not that much fun to watch.

Here's the relevant question: why would I spend $16 to watch a good-but-not-great soccer game when I can spend $5 to watch good-and-getting-better baseball?

I'd go to lots more DC United games if I could get in for $5. I'd go to Ward 8 for $5. But $16? Sorry, guys, it's not the location that matters, is the price-to-quality ratio.

Posted by: Ricardo | May 28, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Any idea what the teams contribution is expected to be? Any other financial info available? What's the $150m for?

It seems to imply that DC United is not contributing much to the deal, and I'm not sure that's the case.

How does this fit in to the Clark deal?

Posted by: JkR | May 28, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

You're an EVERTON fan and you're complaining about having to watch "good-but-not-great" soccer?

Posted by: Jacknut | May 28, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Nice one Jacknut!

Without a soccer stadium construction will go ahead as planned but will not have the drawing power for suburban dollars. You can put all the Ruby Tuesday's and IKEA's down there you want, it won't make me spend my hard earned cash down there. We have those out here in the 'burbs.

Posted by: VoiceOfReason | May 28, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I hate to do this and go out of my way to start an annoying side conversation in the comments section here, but Ricardo: How many DCU games have you ever been to? You do know they've played many EPL teams in the past and never lost, right? I guess I just find it annoying to see such an ignorant comment come from someone who obviously enjoys the sport, sorry it's just me.

But on the topic of the stadium... If the financing is truly coming solely from the tax revenue overflow of the baseball park then there really are not that many negatives to this proposal. The city would be essentially be using excess money from one successful project to create another. It's a long term investment, but the city would be savvy to spur development across the river. It's obvious these developments will be and are financially viable (the ballpark has proven that). Whether they are culturally just is still up in the air for me personally though.

Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

JkR: I don't know if anyone really knows what the overall contribution will be from United at this point. This misconception somewhat propagated by Nakamura himself that United is not and hasn't ever been willing to contribute big money (if not all of the money) to this project is completely false. From day one Kevin Payne and the organization made it clear that the team wanted to control the entire development, PAY FOR IT, and then in turn have ownership rights to the stadium. Now it's never been clearly defined here in this publication (or any for the matter) but the District simply DOES NOT want this. Mayor Fenty and the council would be much happier to have the development firm chosen and controlled by the government (which they have already done), and then if an agreement is ever reached between United and the city then the DCSC would have ownership rights and control of the stadium.

So I guess you could say that this entire debacle can at the end of the day be summed up to the city's need for the DCSC to continue to operate and be a major player in the Washington D.C. sports scene. It's for this very same reason that we'll see the Redskins back in The District much sooner than we think.

Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

David, when will you know the details of what's being proposed so you can help us and the public know what the $150M is for (probably infrastructure) and what DC United will be responsible for (probably the stadium)?

The sooner these details can be made public the less likely we are to have a general assumption that the District is building another stadium with the team owners not having to contribute to it.

Posted by: seahawkdad | May 28, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

This project needs to get done. DC is in the team's name and they're a part of this city - we don't need another WASHINGTON team playing in Maryland. If they are lost to PG County, it will be a travesty for the city, just like losing the 'Skins was (not saying they're on the same level - I'm a huge fan of both but the 'Skins are obviously way ahead of all other teams in the area in terms of popularity).

Posted by: DC | May 28, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse the English Premier League all the time (go Everton!)...why would I spend $16 to watch a good-but-not-great soccer game...
Posted by: Ricardo | May 28, 2008 10:04 AM

Because you can see the game live, hear the crowd, join in the songs and cheers; because you can see the players, hear the thump of a well hit shot, hear the crack of a vicious collision; because you can talk with the fans next to you, argue with the fans next to you, yell yourself hoarse with the fans next to you; because you can smell the fresh cut grass in the spring, enjoy a a cool one on a hot day in August, and be wrapped up against the chill in November in the playoffs -all the while cheering on your local team.

Because the players and fans of DC live here in the DC area and not Everton - just like you!

Posted by: Rob | May 28, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Based on Chris' comments, how would this be better (for DC United) than being at RFK? Better locker rooms and ammenities, sure, but if you don't control the revenue generated from the stadium, what's the point?

Posted by: JS | May 28, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I guess I should also add another small caveat that is rarely brought up in Mr. Nakamura's articles. People quickly forget how The District obtained this land in the first place...

In 1997 at the 2nd MLS Cup, the idea of building a Soccer Specific Stadium for DC United was first proposed between the high ups in The Disrict government and Kevin Payne. Over the next few years the team met periodically with council members and governors to discuss possible locations for the park. Sometime in Williams' term it was decided that Poplar Point (then a Federally owned plot of land) would be the most ideal location for a new United stadium.

So in a sort of spoken agreement between Kevin Payne, Mayor Williams, Marion Barry, and Elenor Holmes Norton it was decided that DC United would fund lobbying in congress so that the district could acquire the land and then ultimately sell the land to United and it's investors so a stadium and development could be built in Ward 8. Now comes the more publicized half of the story where United gets screwed as a result of Mayor Williams exit of office.

From day 1 of Fenty's tenure in office it was apparent that things were not going to continue smoothly as they had before, but it was still (at that point) unthinkable that The District would cut off negotiations with United, who had essentially been a business partner with the city on the project up to this point.

Finally when negotiations were cut off last July it was apparent to most who had been following it for years that United would either have to concede to new and possibly unfair terms or just find a new stadium location outside of the city lines. Now we're here and it looks like United is opting to go with option A. I'm happy because this means that the team will ultimately get the spot they chose so long ago, but I won't ever be so foolish as to think that they and he District taxpayers didn't get somewhat screwed in the process. Hopefully someone at this paper will give the whole story so that the average reader in this town will see how much United bent over backwards to get this stadium done.

Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

JS: I guess I should have said that I'd be extremely surprised if The District concedes ownership of the stadium to United and it's investors. Either way it's a mute point since in less than 5 years RFK will be structurally unusable anyway. The bottom line: United needs a new home. If they can't get it at Poplar Point then they'll end up somewhere else. They have shown they're willing to bend, but it's obvious they really want to stay in the District and be part of a development that will help a neglected part of the city.

Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

To my knowledge, the stated intentions are for the Washington Freedom women's team to play in any new soccer stadium as well. The Freedom will stay at the Maryland SoccerPlex until such a new stadium is built.

Posted by: Everett W. | May 28, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

It's safe to assume that United, the Freedom, the National team (occasionally), and maybe even the Bayhawks would all play at this stadium. It also would draw a large number of big name acts away from Nissan Pavilion for summer concerts since a retractable stage has been part of the stadiums design for some to now.

Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

As a season ticket holder, i have a lot of thoughts on the subject.
1. A new stadium is needed. The time for a multi-use stadium is over. RFK (56K) is too big for MLS soccer. This is not EPL soccer WE dont need an Old Trafford (76K) or even Stamford Bridge (42K). It is also too old for the new generation of soccer fans. When the Redskins left, the stadium should have died with it.
2. I would prefer DC United to stay in DC; however, we are in a extremely suburban area and if WE need to move out of the city for financial benefits so be it!! It takes me 90 min+ to get to games now. I'm not going to stop going if it takes me 2+ hrs.
3. Urban redevelopment is an extremely controversial issue (obvously). Redevelopment at poplar point will not tear down any houses/buisnesses. However, it will force some people out of low rent housing/buisnesses. Special consideration needs to be taken for those property owners. DC has a chance to learn from the mistakes they made with the baseball stadium. Each member of the city council needs to weigh their constiuents opinions vs. whats best for DC. Whats good for the goose is not always good for the gander.
4. Public money should be used to finance a stadium. If the team had the money, they would more than likely finance it. MLS/DC United is still a very young product that is growing extremely rapidly and it still needs nurturing financially/PR/fanbase wise. REMINDER: DC United is still not a profitable team. That being said, I do feel the team should have to repay the money back to the city in a long term financing option, when United is pofitable. Its better than having the stadium become privatly owned and someone else make the money off of the team further down the road.
5. Town Center/mixed-use development is the wave of the future (im in construction, i know). Poplar point will not work w/o the mix-use dollars. There is a very good way to get people who normally wouldnt cross into ward 8 to start spending money there. AND that's what it all comes down to- $$$$$

Posted by: Bryan | May 28, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Has the city ever considered razing RFK and building a new facility in it's place? What purpose will RFK serve when football, baseball, and soccer are all no longer played there?

Posted by: Matt | May 28, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"If the team had the money, they would more than likely finance it." - Bryan

Bryan: Sure the team doesn't have the money, but the ownership group does. There's a distinction there.

Matt: The city is pretty quiet on the future of RFK and the land it sits on right now. Outside of a letter sent by Mayor Fenty months ago to Dan Snyder in an attempt to commence talks about a new Redskins stadium, there hasn't been much "official" news on the subject. But it cannot be ignored that if and when RFK is demolished the city will have to build some sort of new stadium in it's place bcause if I remember correctly that land has a weird stipulation that states if there is not some kind of entertainment venue built on it's premises then it will switch back over to Federally controlled land.

I don't see the District just giving up all that space without trying to build a new venue in RFK's place. I'd expect to see the city pass the construction of United's new park soon. Have United out by 2011, or so. Tear down RFK that year and within the next 5 to 8 years have the Redskins move back to the new DannyDome built in RFK's place. It's a bit of a puzzle, but the city's intentions are somewhat translucent.

On top off all of that, there are already rumors that Snyder is planning on converting FedEx into North America's largest mall. Who the hell knows if that's true but knowing Snyder that would be a the "sensible" option.

Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Would the new DC pro women's team also play in this stadium? How many US national team games would be placed there? Honestly I'm not a huge fan of public financing for stadiums, but maybe this would be a good investment to draw out-of-towners like me into Ward 8, where I don't think I've ever been before except while driving through. (I have a half-season ticket to DC United.)

Posted by: fallschurch1 | May 28, 2008 9:28 AM

In all likelihood, yes, the women's team would play there too. One of the reasons for the timing of Women's Pro Soccer's launch is to play in the new wave of soccer-specific stadiums being built for MLS teams. I have to imagine they'd vastly prefer that central venue to playing way out in Gaithersburg.

Posted by: Stan | May 28, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

"But it cannot be ignored that if and when RFK is demolished the city will have to build some sort of new stadium in it's place bcause if I remember correctly that land has a weird stipulation that states if there is not some kind of entertainment venue built on it's premises then it will switch back over to Federally controlled land."

Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2008 1:05 PM

Yeah, but the Feds plan is to turn that over to private development, and I'm sure the property tax generated from that wouldn't hurt the city too bad. They might prefer the SnyderDome, but I think they'd roll with it otherwise.

Posted by: Stan | May 28, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

DC United has been clear from the beginning of the discussion that it is willing to pay its share for a new stadium (wholly unlike the situation with baseball). A soccer stadium in Ward 8 will bring people, their money, and jobs to that part of the city in a way that doesn't displace any current housing or business. I think it's a clear win-win. And as a business owner that actually pays the tax for the baseball stadium, I would much rather have my funds going to a soccer stadium that keeps a team in DC that has been (1) paying for the otherwise white elephant that is RFK (and therefore made it possible for baseball to return), and (2) has been active in the community, both in outreach and in funding good causes.

Posted by: Jim | May 28, 2008 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure Nakamura's source has an agenda and that's why only some of the information is out. I have to wonder why Nakamura won't mention that any development at Poplar Point is going to require a subsidy. Heck, even the hotel near the convention center is getting a subsidy. That story was clear to point out that it was for infrastructure. No mention of that in the soccer story.

Posted by: DuPont Mike | May 28, 2008 9:55 PM | Report abuse

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