WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday, July 25, 2007) -- As predicted in this column in March, D.C. United's plan to build a new soccer specific stadium in Washington and have it ready by the 2009 season is not going to happen. Rather than simply being delayed, it now appears the whole plan is in jeopardy, and with it United's desire to remain in the District of Columbia.
The process of finding a site for a soccer-specific stadium in D.C. has been ongoing for years. After a search of the Metro area, the decision was made the team should stay in D.C., rather than move to some far-flung suburb.
A previous city administration (current Mayor Adrian Fenty took office on January 2) and United had agreed the best place to build the new soccer stadium would be on a 110-acre site on the banks of the Anacostia River at Poplar Point, just across from the Washington Nationals' new baseball stadium. The parcel has been targeted for redevelopment as part of the city's broad Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. Initial studies by the city indicate the site could accommodate up to 3.5 million square feet worth of development.
The redevelopment of Poplar Point had been the responsibility of the quasi-public Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, which favored United's stadium proposal, but Fenty has now pushed through legislation abolishing the AWC and has transferred its responsibilities to his office.
D.C. United's proposal was that its owners, led by Victor MacFarlane, a San Francisco-based real estate developer, would build the 27,000-seat stadium at no cost to the city. In exchange, MacFarlane would be granted the development rights to the entire parcel.
The Fenty administration now says that infrastructure improvements would be needed and, along with tax breaks being asked for by MacFarlane, would end up costing D.C. some $200 million. The mayor is reportedly lukewarm on the idea of a soccer stadium.
As I noted in March, given the District's strict procurement laws, I did not see how it would be possible to turn the Poplar Point parcel over to MacFarlane without putting it up for open bid by other developers. If it tried, I predicted, the District would leave itself open to a myriad of lawsuits and the ensuing litigation would take years to resolve.
Apparently, the city has come to the same conclusion. D.C. Deputy Mayor Neil Albert has told the Washington Times that the city will issue an official solicitation for the development of the parcel by the end of August. He said new proposals will not necessarily require a soccer stadium.
"Poplar Point is one of the District's most valuable assets and we are presented with a truly once in a generation opportunity to build a new community on the river," Albert said. "We need an open, transparent and community-driven process to determine that this site will deliver the maximum benefits to our residents."
MacFarlane would be free to bid on the site, as would any other developer. What the city wants is a development that would cost it little or nothing and would generate the greatest tax revenues. What the local residents want is a development that would include cheap housing and would provide jobs.
All this leaves the United plan very much up in the air. The Poplar Point plan is technically not dead, but unless MacFarlane comes along with barrels of new money, it might as well be.
At one point in the past, it was proposed that a new soccer stadium be built on the site of RFK Stadium, United's current residence. Now, however, the city is desperate to try to convince Washington Redskins owner Daniel Synder to abandon FedEx field in the far suburbs and to build a new 100,000-seat stadium for his National Football League on the RFK site. Rumor has it Synder has expressed interest that if he was given full development rights to the whole extensive RFK footprint, and surrounding land owned by the city, and that would preclude a new soccer stadium.
So United might be back to looking to the suburbs. The Fenty administration has essentially said, "Gee, too bad. We'll miss you, but not all that much." It is not clear if United can stay at RFK past the 2010 season, so decisions will have to be made quickly.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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