But with United and Mayor Vincent C. Gray striking a preliminary deal to construct a stadium with at least 20,000 seats at Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington, MLS’s most decorated club might soon have its wish.
It’s a complicated proposal requiring land swaps and the City Council’s blessings. In the best circumstances, United would not christen the venue until 2016 — 17 years after the first soccer-specific MLS stadium was introduced in Columbus, Ohio.
But after failed efforts at Poplar Point in Southeast and Prince George’s County, flirtations with Baltimore, exploration in Montgomery County and Virginia, even the fear the team would have to leave the area, United is willing to wait a little longer to complete the most promising proposal since this arduous and frustrating search began.
“We need a new stadium, we need a new home and we’ve been laser-focused on it,” said United managing partner Jason Levien, who, with counsel David Mincberg, has worked closely with City Administrator Allen Y. Lew to formulate the project.
The property sits near the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, a few blocks southwest of Nationals Park, which opened in 2008 and helped revitalize the South Capitol Street corridor. “America’s pastime,” Levien said of the stadiums’ proximity, “and the international pastime.”
Backed by Indonesian media magnate Erick Thohir and San Francisco-based executive Will Chang, United has pledged to spend $150 million on the structure. The city would fund land acquisition and infrastructure improvements, also estimated at $150 million. (Verizon Center was built with a similar financial model. Nationals Park was publicly funded.)
United first targeted Buzzard Point three years ago. In reflecting on early conversations with the team, led by then president Kevin Payne, Lew smacked his fists together.
Fortunes began to turn last summer, when Thohir and Levien joined Chang, who, at the time, was the lone investor. “We see a pathway,” Levien said at the group’s introductory news conference, “and we also know we are going to have to use our machete to get there.”
United, unofficially, became FC Machete. The Barra Brava supporters’ group presented Levien with an actual blade. Stadium talks simmered and chilled. At one point, in fear negotiations would stall for good, United revisited options in Maryland.
“Fortunately,” Levien said, “Allen has the biggest machete.”
Getting out of RFK Stadium, where United has been housed since its 1996 inception, is about more than aesthetics. It’s about revenue streams. Without them at RFK (the team does not control concessions and leasing of private suites, for instance), United has lost several million dollars annually, club officials said. They did not give an exact figure.