Critics of D.C. United stadium deal lay out three priorities


Jason Levien, D.C. United managing general partner, and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announce their preliminary stadium agreement in July. (Nikki Kahn/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Critics of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s D.C. United stadium plan held a small Friday morning forum at the John A. Wilson Building, home to D.C. government offices, where they laid out the three main requests they will make of District officials in considering public spending for the project.

The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a non-profit group, is working to assemble a “Winning Goal Coalition” to push for better terms from the team. About 30 people came, including about half a dozen wearing D.C. United gear. Others came from Southwest neighborhoods around Buzzard Point, where the 20,000-seat stadium would be built.

Ed Lazere, executive director of DCFPI and a veteran of the battle over Nationals Park funding, laid out his three priorities for improving the United deal for District taxpayers.

They are:

1. Get a “fair and clear” deal. This is open to interpretation, but Lazere began with a refrain he is likely to revisit as the plans advance: although Gray (D) has proposed only providing land and infrastructure costs, those assets have value that could instead be invested in libraries, schools, hospitals or anything else.

Relatedly Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who is running for mayor and had a staffer attend the meeting, has said previously how difficult it would be to choose the stadium over rebuilding aging Calvin Coolidge High School in her ward.

2. Cap costs and limit risk to the District. Among the costs that the city has not yet determined with certainty: the cost of acquiring the land, of cleaning up the Pepco site and of providing the team with tax breaks depending on its profitability in the new stadium. Most MLS teams do not turn profits, which Lazere said means the team is likely to get the tax breaks.

3. Make the project “accessible and sustainable.” Here Lazere argues the stadium should provide D.C. residents and companies with stadium work, much of which the team addressed with a project labor agreement.

The fiscal policy institute’s full priority list is here.

Under the mayor’s plan, still being finalized by City Administrator Allen Lew, the District would contribute as much as $150 million of land and infrastructure, about half the cost of a 20,000-seat stadium, in part by swapping the Reeves Center on U Street to developer Akridge.

Judging from the forum, residents of Southwest have a lot of questions they feel have not been answered. Longtime Southwest resident Andy Litsky, chairman of ANC 6D04, said Lew and a slew of high-ranking city officials met with community leaders before announcing the deal but have not been back since, despite questions about traffic, the environment and the effect on hundreds of affordable housing units in the area. “This is a concern that we are bringing to city officials and department heads,” he said.

Lew, who has been handling the effects of the federal government's shutdown, appears to have heeded the call — Litsky said Lew had agreed to attend the ANC’s Oct. 12 meeting.

“He is recognizing, belatedly, that he has got to be out in the community,” Litsky said.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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