The D.C. United soccer team is working with a local developer to acquire land for a new stadium near Poplar Point on the east side of the Anacostia River, directly across the water from the South Capitol Street site where the District is proposing to build a major league ballpark, city officials said yesterday.
While the deal is not complete, D.C. sports and planning officials said they are committed to working with the team to erect a 25,000-seat soccer and concert stadium as part of a mixed-use development east of the river that also would include a training facility, retail establishments and neighborhood recreation fields.
Kevin Payne, president of D.C. United, said of a new stadium, "The city wants it, the team wants it."
The development would be funded primarily by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, the primary investor in D.C. United, which also owns four other Major League Soccer teams, said Stephen Green, a special assistant in the city's office of planning and economic development. AEG's owner, Phil Anschutz, last year paid for a 27,000-seat stadium in Carson, Calif., for the Los Angeles Galaxy and is planning another stadium in Chicago.
"We've made a commitment to work with them to put a financial package together to build a new soccer stadium east of the river . . . in the broader Poplar Point area," Green said. He declined to provide further details, saying "things are still being worked out."
Team President Kevin Payne confirmed that the team is nearing a deal on a new stadium.
"We have a general sense of agreement of what would make sense conceptually," Payne said. "Everybody wants to get a deal done. The city wants it, the team wants it. But there are still some things that need to be clarified."
Officials involved with the negotiations said D.C. United has been exploring a partnership with developer John E. "Chip" Akridge III to build the riverfront soccer stadium. Some land has already been acquired for that purpose, the officials said. No one from Akridge's firm could be reached last night.
D.C. United now plays in the 56,000-seat Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and has been clamoring for a new playing field for more than two years. Across the country, Major League Soccer teams have been seeking new venues to replace giant stadiums originally built for football and other sports in hopes of increasing the value of their tickets and making fans feel less lonely in the stands.
The team's demands grew more urgent this summer after District officials offered RFK Stadium as a temporary home for the Montreal Expos should baseball officials decide to move the Expos to D.C. In July, MLS Commissioner Don Garber worried publicly that scheduling conflicts and a new dirt infield surface would make RFK inhospitable to soccer.
This spring, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) vowed to work with the team to build a new stadium by 2007 and the sites were narrowed to Poplar Point and a parking lot at RFK.
Buoyed by signals that baseball owners are on the verge of sending a baseball team back to Washington for the first time in 33 years, Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, was enthusiastic yesterday about the possibility that the city could soon be building two stadiums on the Anacostia River, creating a sports complex that would generate as many as 3,000 construction jobs.
After the Expos and D.C. United moved into the new venues, Tuohey said the 43-year-old RFK Stadium, a Washington icon that was once home to the Redskins and the Senators, "probably is going to be torn down."
Tuohey said the stadium would be "expensive to maintain and run," adding that a long-range planning group is now studying future uses for the RFK footprint.
Poplar Point is a little-known 110-acre area across the Anacostia River from the Washington Navy Yard. It boasts great views of the Capitol and downtown, a Metro station and 60 acres of rarely visited meadows. As part of its ambitious initiative to redevelop the Anacostia waterfront, the city wants to create a major riverfront park on Poplar Point and surround it with a new neighborhood of residences, businesses and other attractions.
City officials said a soccer stadium and other athletic facilities could easily fit into the vast area and serve as a public attraction that would spur additional mixed use development.
Staff writer Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.