The rumors have been floating around the interwebs for the past few days, and yesterday the flood gates opened. Earlier today DC United and the DC Government signed a term sheet agreement to build a new soccer specific stadium at Buzzard Point, adjacent to Fort McNair on the confluence of the Potomac and the mighty Anacostia. Just a stone’s throw away from the Capitol and Nationals Park.
This, says Mayor Gray, “is the final piece in the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative puzzle that, when complete, will create the most vibrant and sustainable sports-and-retail district in America.”
Please forgive me for not jumping up and down and crying tears of joy – which I should be doing – after all I’ve been following this team since day one. But, like so many of you, I have heard all of these things before. So, until I see the shovel hit the ground I’ll remain a skeptic.
Let’s look back…
By 2005 United was on the verge of building a stadium in Poplar Point (left), remember? United took their stadium initiative to the streets. They not only convinced Marion Barry that a soccer specific stadium in his ward would be beneficial, but they also had the ward 8 community behind them. The promise of new affordable housing, along with new retail, jobs, and economic development was something that the East side residents had seldom been offered. They were ready, so were we…
That effort was the culmination of years of work by Kevin Payne and the the Anschutz Entertainment Group and culminated with a promise by then DC Mayor Anthony Williams that the team would have a new home by the 2007 season.
In the meantime, Anthony Williams was also working feverishly and bending over backwards to get a Major League Baseball (MLB) team into the city. He got his wish and in 2005, the MLB team begin play at RFK stadium, United’s home. The Black-and-Red did not get the promised stadium, and instead watched as the MLB franchise used “their” facility for three seasons as the city coughed up the money to build that same team a state of the art facility on the river front. In 2008 United finally saw their co-tenants move out to National’s Park.
That baseball stadium left District residents with a foul taste in their mouths (some are still trying to wash it out.) Tax payer money was used to finance a project who’s cost nearly doubled and which saw very little economic development (at least when it was initially finished) for the city, so naturally, no one in DC wanted to hear talk about “another” stadium…
United kept trying, but talks with the city stalled, so the team began efforts to move to Prince George’s County.
In 2009 new co-owner Victor McFarlane, frustrated with the lack of progress in DC, pushed forward and worked with Prince George’s county to move the team to Maryland. But, like talks with DC, the measure stalled in the Maryland Assembly and ultimately died.
By 2010 MLS commissioner Don Garber began expressing the frustration DC United officials and fans had been feeling for years. He wondered out loud “how it was possible that DC Government officials could take so long to make a decision on a home for DC United?” The criticism was followed with yet another announcement about moving the team, although not by DC United. The Maryland Stadium Authority conducted a study on their own to woo our franchise to the Baltimore Waterfront. United officials certainly appreciated the gesture, but thankfully have remained focused on something happening in DC.
So, that brings us to today.
The Buzzard Point location (below) came up in early 2011. Kevin Payne began talking about several sites in DC with DC Officials; and Buzzard Point rose to the top as the most viable. And now, after over two years, we have the term sheet agreement.
However, although the City and United have signed an agreement, there is still much to do.
For starters, the District still has to cough up $150 million in infrastructure and other expenses (United will pay to build the stadium – another $150 million.) DC Officials will also have to make a series of land and property deals in order to secure the complete parcel for the stadium. Pepco, the development firm Akridge and Mark D. Ein hold deeds to very valuable land. The city will have to offer some sweet deals in return and I’m sure the three land owners mentioned will do their best to get the most for their properties – hopefully that will not be a major hurdle. Finally, there’s the DC council and DC residents who undoubtedly have the Nationals’ Stadium debacle still fresh in their memories. Will that experience sour the mood for this deal? Hopefully not.
So, you see why I remain somewhat skeptical and why I say: “Until I see a bulldozer moving earth I will not be dancing in the streets.” Here’s to a positive outcome so that we can finally have the facility this team deserves – it will make this season’s suffering more manageable…