Muriel Bowser: No Reeves Center swap for D.C. United stadium

D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said Wednesday that she wouldn’t support Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposal to trade away the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in order to help pay for a new D.C. United soccer stadium on Buzzard Point.

Bowser, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, said she would rather see the city’s capital dollars go to improving the city’s middle schools.


D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser speaks to an audience at a mayoral candidates forum. (Photo by Michael S.Williamson/The Washington Post)

Gray (D) and his city administrator, Allen Lew, are arranging a series of agreements with landowners on Buzzard Point, in Southwest D.C., in order to provide the needed land for 20,000-seat stadium for D.C. United.

Under Gray’s plan, the city would put up about half the cost of the $300 million project through tax incentives and land swaps, including one in which D.C. would trade the Reeves Center, on U Street, to developer Akridge for a piece of Buzzard Point. 

Lew has not disclosed appraisals that have been done for the Reeves Center and Buzzard Point properties, but he has met with Bowser and other council members to update them on the stadium discussions. Bowser said she did not like what she heard in terms of the possible value of the Reeves center.

“I get concerned about the land swap idea, especially for the Reeves Center with the numbers that I have heard being bounced around about what people think it’s worth,” she said.

“I think that it’s worth a lot of money,” she added. “So if they come back and tell me that it’s not, that it’s worth half of what everybody thinks it’s worth, then I think that that’s a deal that deserves some scrutiny. I think we can redevelop there — I’m not saying that we have to keep the Reeves Center there — but I think we have to be paid for what it’s worth.”

Asked whether she had an alternative plan for getting a new United stadium built Bowser said: “I don’t know that that’s my first priority. My priority would be making sure that we are meeting a whole lot of capital needs that the city has, including how we’re going to transform middle schools across the city.”

Other council members have voiced concern about the stadium proposal but Bowser’s opposition could be especially problematic for Gray’s plan because as chair of the council’s committee on economic development, Bowser can block any legislation authorizing major land sales or long-term leases. If she doesn’t like a proposal that would trade away the Reeves Center, she could decide not to bring the bill up for consideration.

Bowser said that if she were elected mayor and a stadium plan had not yet been approved she would take a hard look at whether the team’s owners had the wherewithal to acquire the land needed for a stadium on their own.

United’s majority owner since 2012, Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir, purchased a 70 percent stake in Italian soccer club Inter Milan last year for a reported $480 million.  United is also finalizing a deal with government contractor Leidos to be the team’s primary sponsor.

“I would figure out where [the stadium discussion] is, but we know some things have changed with that team including them getting a new billionaire owner. So I want to make sure that they are coming to the table with their fair share before they ask the residents of the District of Columbia for one penny,” she said. 

If Bowser decides to carry the anti-stadium torch she would follow in the footsteps of her predecessor as council member in Ward 4, Adrian Fenty, who was elected mayor after opposing the District’s deal to pay for all of Nationals Park. Fenty lost to Gray in the last mayoral election.

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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