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To build or not to build? DC United stadium deal a political lightning rod

Written By | Dec 9, 2014

WASHINGTON, December 9, 2014 – Hispanic contractors are lining up their support for their front burner project. Pending a series of votes by DC City Council, they are awaiting a hoped-for final passage of the DC United stadium deal currently on the table. It would swap the District’s Reeves Center at 14th and U Street NW for a parcel of property at Buzzard’s Point in Southwest Washington to build a state-of-the-art soccer stadium.

The new stadium would provide an exciting and long-awaited new venue for the DC area’s growing legion of soccer fans replace. It would finally be that DC United’s current home—the badly decaying RFK Stadium—with a state of the art soccer facility that, like the still-new Washington Nationals ballpark, would continue the revival already underway in the city’s long-neglected Southeast-Southwest quadrants.

DC United Managing Partner Jason Levien reinforced his support for the stadium deal in a recent op ed column appearing in the Washington Business Journal.

“We are particularly grateful to Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who commissioned an independent cost benefit analysis that confirms the enormous positive economic impact the stadium project will have on the District,” he wrote. “As the study notes, over the next 32 years, the stadium project will generate $2.6 billion in new economic activity and will create 1,683 new fulltime equivalent jobs for District residents.

“Additionally, the District will derive a net fiscal benefit of $109 million from the stadium itself, even when the proposed tax phase in for the project is taken into account,” said Mr. Levien.

RELATED: Rep. Cardenas: GOP missing golden opportunity with Hispanics.

According to a recent study of team support, nearly half DC United’s fans are Hispanic and black according to Craig Stouffer, the club’s Director of Communication. “We are proud of our support within the Hispanic community for the stadium project and the diversity of our fan base,” he said. “According to recent Scarborough research, 26 percent of our fans identify themselves as Hispanic, and 22 percent identify themselves as African-American.”

“On the field,” he observed, “Hispanic players have played a significant role throughout the team’s history. Our technical staff scours the country and the world to find skilled and talented players who could be successful in a D.C. United uniform.”

With regard to the stadium project itself, D.C. United signed a Project Labor Agreement providing that 51 percent of stadium jobs will go to District residents; 50 percent of development-related contracts will go to DC Certified Business Enterprises (CBEs); and 35 percent of all stadium operation contracts will go to CBEs as well.

But the stadium deal may be encountering a political fork in the road. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser has made statements that her incoming administration wants to exercise “more control” over the project. Furthermore, many feel she has no “Plan B” to substitute for outgoing Mayor Vincent Grey’s strategy to swap the DC-owned Reeves Center property for Buzzard’s Point, something that greatly concerns the Ackridge Company, whose development plans are key to the deal.

DC United feels that new tax revenue generated from the revitalization of the Buzzard Point/Capital Riverfront neighborhood project far outweighs the potential value of the Reeves Center and the delays that another round of renegotiations will cost the project.

“While there are risks inherent in any deal,” noted Mr. Levien, “we have strived to mitigate those risks. The District’s financial obligation is capped at $150 million, while its projected costs are expected to be no more than $120 million.

“All construction costs for the stadium will be privately funded,” he said. “This will allow the District to keep its financial risk to a minimum while bolstering its tax base. D.C. United will invest $150 million in stadium construction and D.C. United — not the District will be responsible for all overages on stadium construction and land preparation, including environmental remediation. The project will not result in any new taxes on District residents or businesses,” said Mr. Levien.

Having passed numerous hurdles, the Stadium deal is once again on the DC City Council’s agenda for its second reading, which is slated to come at the council’s December 16 meeting.

Either way this deal goes down, local Hispanic contractors, fans and community residents feel invested in the economic and civic pride payoff for a team whose fan base and player roster is majority Hispanic and black.


Malcolm Barnes

As a credentialed professional photo journalist, Mr. Barnes writes for the SQUARE BUSINESS journal, served as the Business Editor and columnist for the Washington Informer, and as the Community Development writer for The Common Denominator newspaper.