July 9, 2020

D.C. United and city agree to new stadium initiative

Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. United Managing Partner Jason M. Levien, and several other officials formally announced Thursday morning plans to keep the Major League Soccer club in the city via a new stadium project to be built at Buzzard Point near the convergence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, only a few blocks from Nationals Park – the home of the city’s baseball team.

The stadium would seat between 20,000 and 25,000 fans, and would open no sooner than 2016, according to plans illustrated on the United website. During the press conference, Mayor Gray stated that the stadium could be used for other events such as concerts and college & high school football games.

The announcement, which emanated from the proposed stadium site, and was carried live on Comcast SportsNet and streamed on the team’s website, offered the most realistic hope yet of United finally escaping 52-year-old RFK Stadium and moving into a more proper facility for decades to come.

“The quest for a soccer-first facility has been going on since the team’s inception,” said Mayor Gray to a gathering of media, club supporters, five City Council members, and city residents. “We look forward to United winning even more championships once they get into their brand new, state-of-the-art stadium.”

There are many hurdles standing between today’s announcement and the 2016 home opener. The deal is dependent on “land swaps,” as the Mayor put it, between multiple property owners at Buzzard Point and the city. The only such swap that was discussed today involved a parcel owned by Akridge Development that would be swapped with property currently housing the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 2000 14th Street NW.

Other trades with other land owners at the Buzzard Point site, including PEPCO, aren’t completed and weren’t discussed in detail at today’s announcement. Mayor Gray said that such land swaps require a valuation analysis to be done with any property involved, “to make sure there is equity in the relationship for both parties.”

Transportation could also be an issue. The nearest Metro station to the proposed stadium site is Navy Yard, which is north of Nationals Park. The proposed soccer stadium is southwest of Nationals Park. Mayor Gray stated that he hoped a relationship could be built with the Nationals regarding parking, since there are garages in place already for the baseball stadium, and he thought it would be unlikely that both the Nationals and United would be playing home games at the same time.

During the question-and-answer sessions, concerns were also brought up about the cost of the project and how putting such effort into this stadium would affect other needs currently facing the city such as schools, transportation, and public safety. Mayor Gray tried to address some of those concerns, but also noted that there are several months of discussion coming beyond today’s signing of a term sheet to address these issues.

“Construction of the stadium is being paid for the by team,” said Mayor Gray, which according to the team will cost approximately $150 million. “We are doing the horizontal stuff, in terms of site preparation, and the vertical stuff is being done by the team.”

Mayor Gray added that if there are cost overruns with regard to the construction of the stadium, the team would be responsible for them.

Calling today a “landmark day for D.C. United,” Levien stated that discussions with the city regarding a new stadium plan to keep United in D.C. began within 24 hours of he and fellow managing partner Erick Thohir buying into the club last year (Will Chang is also a General Partner at United). City Administrator Allen Lew said that the emergence of Levien and Thohir as the leaders behind United’s push for this project made a big difference in getting things to this point.

“What took place was a sea change, a game changer for all of us,” Lew said. “The dialogue totally changed and the approach changed. The Mayor agreed that we were going to work with [United] to come up with a new home.”

Both Mayor Gray and Levien pointed to Lew’s involvement as being instrumental in getting the process to this point. Mayor Gray stated that Lew was a key factor behind the development of the new Washington Convention Center and Nationals Park.

“Once we knew Lew was engaged in this process and saw the work he was going to put forward and all the time he put into this, we knew we were going to get to this place,” Levien said.

In a letter to the club’s fans on the United website, Levien stated, “The realization of a soccer stadium in the District is a reflection of D.C. United’s role within the fabric of the city and the sport. Our club and our fans forged traditions to anchor Major League Soccer in its infancy. This accomplishment will add to our rich history, leading to a venue in our nation’s capital unlike any other in our league.

‘There is plenty of work ahead, but we are determined to collaborate with the District of Columbia government until this comes to fruition.”

The Mayor and Lew both said they see this stadium project as an important part of economic development for the city, especially for the city’s eastern side which Mayor Gray said was a his focal point of his re-invigoration efforts. A new municipal center to replace the Reeves Building would be built across the river from the stadium in Anacostia, according to initial plans.

Of United’s current home, Mayor Gray reminded attendees that the city doesn’t own that venue. However, he hinted it would make a great site for a football stadium. The Washington Redskins left RFK after the 1996 season for a new stadium in Maryland.

For now, however, United are still at RFK for the foreseeable future, and will be there in action at 7 p.m. Saturday when D.C. hosts the New England Revolution in an MLS league match.

Ed Morgans is a Contributor to District Sports Page, covering D.C. United. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @writered21.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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