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Posted at 6:07 PM ET, 02/18/2009

Yellow Card for Stadium Plan in Md.

By Gina Acosta

Here we go again [“P.G. United? Co-Owner May Move D.C. Soccer Team to Prince George’s,” Metro, Feb. 13].

With the news that D.C. United is planning to move to Prince George’s County and build a 24,000-seat stadium there, I can’t help but think that county officials could have learned something from the FedEx Field debacle.

Sports marketers promise all sorts of economic benefits, but look at the neighborhoods around the NFL stadium and you’ll see how hollow those promises are. FedEx Field is a self-contained facility that fans visit and leave; they contribute little to the surrounding area, except for the noise and pollution from their cars. The proposed soccer stadium may be built near a Metro station, but is there any reason to believe that the prospect of a long subway ride will make fans more willing to linger and spend money? Aren’t they more likely to satisfy their hunger and thirst inside the stadium and head straight home after a game?

Advocates of the new project claim it will pay for itself, although D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane has acknowledged that Maryland will be “on the hook” if the stadium does not meet revenue pro8jections [Metro, Feb. 17]. Even if the team’s assumptions prove true, loans issued for the new facility would affect the state’s credit rating and potentially increase its cost of borrowing. You can’t have it all, and if the state extends its credit to a soccer stadium, it will have less to spend in other areas.

But there’s no need to argue about whether investing public resources in a new soccer stadium makes sense. There is a simple way to test the team owners’ assumptions and claims of economic benefit.

Before Maryland officials consider whether to support this project, they should commission an impartial third party to analyze the economic costs and benefits of the public investment in FedEx field. The University of Maryland would be one possible candidate for the job. Such a study could determine whether the state’s investment in the football stadium paid off for the general public and offer an indication of whether the proposed new soccer stadium could fulfill the promises being made for it.

And if the state ultimately decides to support the venture, studying the FedEx Field experience would give both Maryland and Prince George’s officials information that would help them negotiate the best terms for the soccer stadium.

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Before we build another state-supported stadium, let’s take the time to be sure this is the kind of history we really want to repeat.

Colin Helmer

By Gina Acosta  | February 18, 2009; 6:07 PM ET
Categories:  DC United, stadium  
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Mr. Helmer hit the nail on the head, but a study was commissioned by Crossroads Consults written to get the result the county desired. However, stadiums do not return revenue because of the massive bond, construction infrastructure required. Fed Ex Field has rendered Landover Rd a "dead zone" - no businesses will come in. Even the Sports Complex is being partially supported by taxpayers. We will be on the hook, and politicians don't think - that's the problems

Posted by: robinsonawjr | February 19, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

It really is apples and oranges. FedEx Field is a massive land-grabbing structure, along with the associated parking. Sundays are not a good day for a local business. Anyone not going to the game, won't come within a mile of the stadium, and the highways are choked badly enough to keep destination shoppers off the road. Plus, it's already been a long day for the fans, when the game ends, after 3 hours. Then, they're facing a long drive to get home for Sunday dinner (or to get ready for a workday).

A soccer stadium would be entirely different. Much smaller crowds. A quarter of the size, or less. They won't be bringing anything like the road-choking traffic jams that accompany FedEx Field events. A much smaller stadium, without those huge field of parking. The team envisions an urban stadium, in contrast to the suburban behemoth down the road.

United will have mostly evening games, and most of those on Saturday nights. Speaking from experience, I know many United fans catch the metro from RFK and head to Eastern Market for a late dinner, or to go to the team's "official" watering hole. Others go to the Penn Quarter area, or U St. With the new stadium, there will still be fans who head to DC's central district to eat and party. However, if all goes according to the vision, there will be local watering holes and/or restaurants that will cater to fans.

One other consideration -- with United leaving RFK after the 2011 season, DC's leasehold on the RFK stadium site could expire within a year. There is much speculation that the city will be much more aggressive in trying to build the Redskins a stadium in city limits -- presumably on the RFK site. It seems unlikely that FedEx Field would survive much longer, without the Redskins.

So, that dead zone might be reopened. The DC United stadium might be the anchor of a neighborhood renaissance. I'm sure that's how Victor MacFarlane, the team owner and real estate magnate, imagines it. The stadium won't be an enormous boon in and of itself, but it might give this new neighborhood a unique identity that would create economic activity.

Posted by: fischy | February 20, 2009 1:17 AM | Report abuse

Great post fischy. Glad to see it front and center.

Posted by: DadRyan | February 20, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Surrounding mixed-use development will be integral to the soccer stadium plan, which obviously wasn't the case with FedEx Field. In fact, some people have alleged that MacFarlane could have gotten himself a stadium much sooner if he weren't so committed to finding a site that lends itself to such development.

Posted by: universityandpark | February 20, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

universityandpark is more right than s/he knows. The issue of a "dead zone" is completely moot--while MacFarlane is a fan of DCU and supports the team, he is first and foremost an investor and a moneymaker with a proven track record. He sees the stadium as a vehicle for that expansion and economic development. The question is not whether he will invest in the area or attempt to inject economic vitality--it's just a question of how successful he will be. Development is the ultimate reason he's doing this and he has a record of being very good at it. So put that fear to bed.

Posted by: vivzig | February 20, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

The debt on the bonds will be paid for by the revenue generated by the stadium, if I'm reading the proposal correctly. As a United season ticket holder I'll be helping to fund that stadium. I live in Hampton, Va which is 3 hours away. I don't spend any money in the surrounding area of RFK before or after the game because of time constraints and the lack of convenient restaurants. But an urban stadium with restaurants/amenities within walking distance would definately get my business. We normally eat in Potomac Mills on the way home. Wouldn't Maryland business owners and taxpayers rather I spend my entertainment dollars in their state?

Posted by: Section106 | February 20, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Not sure this project would really affect Maryland's credit rating. If these were general obligation bonds (paid for by taxpayers), then the investors would be relying on Maryland's ability to raise funds through taxes. But since these are revenue bonds (paid for by tickets, parking, concessions, etc.), the investors would be relying on the accuracy of the numbers generated by stadium's economic feasibility study.

If the numbers are inaccurate, Maryland might be "on the hook" for 5% of the total cost, but not 100% like they would with general obligation bonds.

Posted by: notafembot | February 20, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

This kind of piggy-backs on fischy's excellent post above...

While Mr. Helmer is certainly entitled to be skeptical - he's plain wrong in his association between a soccer stadium and FedEx,

"Before Maryland officials consider whether to support this project, they should commission an impartial third party to analyze the economic costs and benefits of the public investment in FedEx Field."

Umm, what? First of all, FedEx Field was privately built and owned. Certainly the County invested (infrastructure, roads?), but this was a cheap, quick and dirty project executed by the Cooke family. Now owned by Daniel Snyder. The Maryland Stadium Authority was not involved in its financing or construction. FedEx was built to completely satisfy the needs of the team, not the County (with the exception of the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex thrown in to the deal).

Also, a soccer stadium and FedEx are quantitatively and qualitatively different animals. A United stadium would not be surrounded by surface parking, divorcing it from the community. To some chagrin, tailgating would not be as common, pushing fans into potential bars and restaurants.

If Mr. Helmer is so curious about comparisons, he should probably stick to projects that have been financed by the stadium authority. Like Camden Yards, the Ripken and Southern Maryland minor league parks and M&T Bank Stadium. That's where the state money has gone.

Posted by: Kev29 | February 23, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Why did The Post see fit to first print and post this on the 19th and then run it again this Sunday?

Not enough angst stirred up the first time?

I can't remember a reader letter being run twice, particularly accompanied by a large, eye catching photo the second time.

There wouldn't be an agenda here, would there?

Posted by: seahawkdad | February 23, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

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