D.C. United ‘very hopeful’ for new stadium

February 15, 2013

D.C. United’s leadership is “very hopeful” of striking a deal to build a soccer stadium in Washington and end the MLS club’s decade-long search for a new home in the area, Jason Levien, the team’s managing partner, told the Insider.

In his first comments about the proposal in several months, Levien said: “The stars are aligning in a good way for us. We’re working closely with the right people and we feel better about it today than we did three months ago, no question.”

Levien declined to go into detail about negotiations or provide a timetable for a possible agreement. “We want to honor the process and confidentiality of the proceedings,” he said. “We feel we have positive momentum and we don’t want to do anything to deter it.”

United has targeted Buzzard Point — a largely undeveloped area near Nationals Park in Southwest — for a complex that would accommodate between 20,000 and 24,000 spectators and replace 52-year-old RFK Stadium as the team’s home venue.

United would finance the project but require help from the city to cover infrastructure and land acquisition costs. Pepco, a local power company, and Akridge, a developer, control the majority of the land.

“Interaction with the city has been very positive and very productive,” Levien said. “We’re pushing the right buttons and making things happen in a good way. … There is more than hope. We are very hopeful.”

With talks apparently heading in the right direction, Levien said United has ruled out moving to Baltimore, which had proposed a soccer stadium near I-95 and the city’s other sports facilities.

“We greatly appreciate [Baltimore’s] interest and outreach,” he said, “but our focus is here. Our fans deserve our focus to be here and that is guiding us right now.”

United has sought a new home for about 10 years, first at Poplar Point in Southeast D.C. and then in Prince George’s County in Maryland. After initial optimism, both proposals fizzled.

Of MLS’s 19 teams, United is the only one without a new or renovated stadium, or formal plans to build one. (The New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders play in NFL complexes but don’t intend to move anytime soon.)

Without a new home – and the potential revenue streams that come with it — United will continue to absorb substantial losses and struggle to keep pace with the rest of the growing league, club officials said.

United’s stadium outlook brightened last summer when Levien and Erick Thohir, a wealthy Indonesian businessman, agreed to join Will Chang, the team’s lone investor. The transaction brought Thohir’s financial muscle and Levien’s legal, political and sports experience. (He practiced with Williams & Connolly, worked in Democratic circles and served as an NBA agent, executive and shareholder.)

“We’re going to be judged” on whether a stadium is built, Levien said. “A huge part of our investment was bringing a home to D.C. United.”

In October, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D – Ward 2) said the city was in final negotiations with United to build the stadium, then quickly backtracked. Since then, city officials have been mum about the talks, signaling a concerted effort to keep the discussions on the down low.

Buzzard Point, at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, is home to Fort McNair; National Defense University; U.S. Coast Guard headquarters; decommissioned Pepco generators; an active Pepco substation; a marina; salvage yard; and surface parking lots.

The stadium would also host college and international matches, non-soccer sporting events and concerts. The long-term outlook is to surround it with mixed-use development and create a stadium district, linking the soccer complex with the baseball park six blocks away.

Levien, 41, became chief executive and managing partner of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies last fall after serving with Thohir in the Philadelphia 76ers ownership.

This winter Levien moved with his family to Washington from New York because “there is a lot happening here with the business. It didn’t make sense for me to be in New York any longer. Professionally, my life is in D.C. and Memphis.”

With two teams to oversee, Levien has enlisted United team counsel David Mincberg to help push the stadium project along. Mincberg serves in the same legal capacity for the Grizzlies but lives in Washington and has a real estate background.

“He has taken a real lead for us on the stadium front with me and is doing a lot of it,” Levien said. “He has been interacting quite a bit with the city.”

United also has consultants, architects and legal advisors assisting with the plan, Levien said. Team executives Michael Williamson and Doug Hicks are also involved. Levien said he is in regular contact with Thohir and Chang, a Bay Area executive entering his sixth year with United.

Asked what would happen if he couldn’t reach a stadium deal in Washington, Levien said: “I don’t even want to go into hypotheticals because there is no reason to diminish the opportunity we have here. There could be other attractive opportunities for us, but we don’t want other opportunities. This is the one we want.”

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In my next blog posting, Levien shares his thoughts on RFK Stadium, the front office, roster and local TV rights.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff · February 14, 2013

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