RFK lease could re-launch stadium push for D.C. United


Rain pours down during a 2008 match against the Houston Dynamo. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Officials from D.C. United and Events DC are close to agreeing on a two-year lease extension at RFK Stadium, creating a window in which the team and some officials likely will attempt a last-ditch effort to build a stadium for the team in the District.

The combination of a lease that is expected to provide more favorable conditions for the team — as well as possible incentives for the team to remain in the District long-term — and an improved budget situation for the city has created optimism.

United officials have been pursuing a more favorable lease to stave off financial losses. Team President Kevin Payne told The Washington Post in early February that he had recent talks with officials in Maryland and the District.

William N. Hall, a board member at Events DC who was a key player in returning Major League Baseball to the District, said the new lease will “reflect the current economic realities of Major League Soccer in Washington and will more be reflective of the cost-side, or the expense side, of what other MLS teams are dealing with.”

“That two-year extension will then provide adequate time for serious negotiations to commence between the city, Events DC and the team about a new soccer stadium in D.C., and one that meets the needs of the city and one that meets the needs of D.C. United,” he said.

Gregory A. O’Dell, Events DC president and chief executive, would not disclose terms of the lease but said it could include contingencies to give the team incentives to commit to the District long-term. He said he hopes it will be complete by the team’s first home game on March 10.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray has repeatedly said the team needs to pay for its own stadium. But Hall and others say they expect Gray to consider helping the team get a deal. Gray’s chief of staff, Chris Murphy, issued a statement as the RFK lease neared completion saying that “the District is not in a position to build a stadium with taxpayer funds. However, we are hopeful we can find a way to keep them here where they belong.”

In January, city officials announced that the District ended its 2011 fiscal year with a $240 million surplus, after years of having to fill budget gaps. And Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said despite the improved finances the city was still unable to issue bonds for the project as it did for the Nationals Park or the convention center because of the city’s limit on borrowing. “They are going to be the ones who are going to have to borrow the money because the city can’t,” Evans said of the team.

Hall, a partner at Venable LLP, said he sees the pieces falling into place. “I am confident that we will be able to put the kind of deal together that will result in the D.C. United remaining in Washington the rest of our lifetime,” he said.

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