June 24, 2014

WITHOUT A new stadium, Washington’s professional men’s soccer team will eventually move out of town. Those who don’t count themselves as fans may not care much, but D.C. United adds to the life of the city. Helping the team and its fans get a better home is a legitimate policy goal. But how extensive that help should be needs to be carefully examined. The D.C. Council should not rush into approving the deal worked out by the administration.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has made no secret of his desire for the council to take speedy action on a $300 million proposal for a new soccer stadium in Southwest. With seven months left in his term, he wants to cement a deal. We, too, hope that professional soccer’s future can be secured for the District, and it’s encouraging that D.C. United is willing to make its own substantial investment by paying for the construction of a stadium. That the city would assemble and prepare the land appears reasonable; a fact of modern urban life is that no stadiums are built without some public support.

Nonetheless, there are questions about whether the proposal is the best deal for the city. Foremost here are concerns about the land swap involving the Reeves Center on 14th Street NW. Administration officials make a good argument that the building has outlived its usefulness as municipal office space, but simply trading it away without an understanding of what it might fetch in a public auction (the practice generally employed when the city wants to sell an asset) seems shortsighted. Other questions center on whether the city is being overly generous in giving property and sales tax breaks to the team.

We appreciate the Gray administration’s argument about the need to take a long view and consider how an investment of tax dollars can eventually pay off in economic growth, new vitality and added revenues. One need only to watch the crowds streaming into Nationals Park or packing nearby restaurants to believe the city was right to share in that investment.

But just as no private citizen would enter into a deal without fully understanding all the ramifications, the council is right to want to take care. Beyond a review by the city’s chief financial officer, the council, set to hold a hearing Thursday on the proposal, is seeking an outside consultant to advise it. That makes sense.

A rendering of the proposed D.C. United stadium on Buzzard Point. (Courtesy D.C. United)

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