D.C. United Stadium Deal Could Be Hard Sell For D.C. Council

Is D.C. United shedding Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium for Buzzard Point? (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Soccer fans in the District finally have details on the long-awaited plan to make a new stadium for D.C. United a reality, although D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has signaled some initial skepticism and other concerns could derail the deal. Five months after Mayor Vincent Gray indicated the $300-million project targeted for the Buzzard Point area of Southwest D.C. was ready to move forward, pending some tricky land swaps, he delivered a legislative package to the D.C. Council last week containing the final business terms of the agreement.  

Under the deal, D.C. taxpayers would provide up to $150 million in property and infrastructure, while the team would pay $150 million for construction of the stadium. The agreement also includes some tax sweeteners for D.C. United that could be a hard sell for the council.  

Mendelson said he was "wary of any tax abatements" when pressed for comment on the stadium proposal during a Tuesday press conference. He emphasized that he had not yet looked in detail at the mayor's plan or discussed it with colleagues.  

"My guess is that the bill involves a number of committees," Mendelson said, predicting that there would probably be multiple hearings on the proposal.  

Gray has pitched the new Major League Soccer stadium as the final piece in an Anacostia River waterfront development that included construction of Nationals Park. The city contributed over $670 million to that sports complex.  

“The new soccer stadium will be the connector between developing areas around our baseball stadium and the new Wharf development along our Southwest Waterfront," Gray said last week, announcing the deal. "The new soccer stadium is the final catalyst for what is certain to become one of the most vibrant and sustainable sports and retail districts in America.”  

To acquire the majority of the stadium site, the District would trade the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs, currently located at 2000 14th Street, NW, to real estate development firm Akridge. Current tenants of the 8-story building in the midst of the bustling U Street Corridor include the city's Department of Public Works and Department of General Services. The plan calls for government agencies to relocate to a new complex in Anacostia near the District's Department of Housing and Community Development, which would include some retail.  

Mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser, a Democrat who represents Ward 4 and chairs the council’s economic development committee, has expressed opposition to the proposed Reeves Center swap, saying she would rather see the money spent elsewhere. Another piece of the Buzzard Point land swap  involves a piece of property at First and K streets Northwest that is a community garden. It would be traded to Pepco  in exchange for the utility's parcels on the stadium site.

According to the Office of City Administrator Allen Y. Lew, who led negotiations, those deals account for the vast majority of the proposed stadium site but do not include Super Salvage, a facility that has processed scrap metal in the city for decades. The city is working toward an agreement with the scrapyard for its property.

D.C. United won't have to share profits with the city for the first few years of the lease. The city initially won't collect game-day sales taxes from the team or its concessionaires, or any property taxes. Both will be phased in, with full property taxes not applying until 20 years into the lease. Eventually, the District will get a small share of ticket profits.  

The team would be required to give D.C. residents 51 percent of the jobs at the soccer stadium and hire locally certified businesses for half of its development-related contracts. For stadium operations, such as janitorial and food services, 35 percent of contracts would go to locally certified businesses.