D.C. United executives and District officials have reached a preliminary $300 million deal to build a 20,000-seat stadium for the team on Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington.
The agreement, team and city leaders said, could end a decade-long search by the Major League Soccer franchise for a new venue that would allow it to leave RFK Stadium, where D.C. United has played since its founding in 1996 but where its investors say the team loses money every year.
Plans for a Buzzard Point stadium for D.C. United, you may recall, were first floated more than two years ago, and then the team said it would want to get a share of tax revenue kicked back to help pay for construction, and then nothing happened, and then more nothing happened. But now it appears that something has happened, or at least D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has scheduled a press conference for today to announce that something has happened, which is something in its own right.
So, what would this stadium look like, how would it be paid for, and how would the site be pieced together? The last one is the one where new progress has apparently been made: The idea is for some of the current property holders to get land elsewhere in the city in exchange, though it doesn’t look like everyone whose approval would be needed has yet signed on to that.
As for cost, the Washington Post reports that “the District and United would split the costs for the project, with the city providing about $150 million to assemble land and prepare the site and the team spending a similar amount building the stadium.” The Post also notes that those tax kickbacks are on the table as well, though, with a “sales and use tax abatement worth as much as $2.6 million in its first year” — if you assume that it’ll go up with inflation, over 30 years that could be worth between $40 million and $70 million in present value, putting the District’s total cost at more like $200 million.
That’s a whole heck of a lot of dough, and with D.C.’s bonding capacity limited, the District is instead proposing to raise the cash by selling off city-owned properties, including the Reeves Center office complex, for development. The Post rosily notes that the Reeves Center is “increasingly obsolete” and “allowing a private company to develop it would bring the city new tax revenue,” though if so, D.C. could sell the Reeves Center right now and use that new tax revenue (plus whatever it got for the land) on something other than a new soccer stadium if it wanted.
It’s all still a bit nebulous, especially since no one really knows how much the city will have to pay for the stadium land, how much it will get for the Reeves Center and other land it hopes to sell, or even how big a stadium D.C. United wants to build. (Team managing partner Jason Levien says they could either go for a 25,000-seat stadium, or a 20,000-seater with room for expansion.) It’s exactly the kind of “here’s the rough framework, we can haggle over the rest” plan that teams and mayors like to propose, though, especially when the mayor in question may not be mayor for much longer. Expect a big public battle over the next few months to a year — and if the Nationals stadium throwdown was any indicator, this could be quite the entertaining battle indeed.