New Management Starts Public Push for Stadium

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

San Francisco real estate mogul Victor B. MacFarlane, who has quietly invested millions of dollars in District-based projects in recent months, was introduced yesterday as the new majority owner of D.C. United's operating rights and began his public push for a $150 million soccer stadium in Southeast Washington.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) joined MacFarlane and his partners -- real estate developer and former Duke University basketball star Brian Davis and investor William H.C. Chang -- at a news conference to announce the United deal.

The group bought the operating rights from Anschutz Entertainment Group for $33 million last week. Even before then, though, United President Kevin Payne was lobbying city leaders for a 27,000-seat stadium to open by 2009 at Poplar Point in Ward 8.

Payne will remain in his job under MacFarlane, who is reportedly as interested in the soccer stadium as he is in operating United. MacFarlane, 55, did not provide details of his stadium plans yesterday but pledged to build a youth soccer field in Ward 8 as part of his investment.

"We want to be sure to reach out to the community and show we are giving back," MacFarlane said after the news conference, held in a gilded ballroom at the Willard Hotel, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the John A. Wilson Building.

MacFarlane, who lives in a $30 million penthouse in San Francisco and owns two airplanes, appears to be trying to establish himself as a major player in D.C. development. He said yesterday that he plans to invest between $5 billion and $10 billion in the District during the next several years.

MacFarlane is the first African American to have a controlling stake in a Major League Soccer franchise. Davis, who grew up in Southeast and lives in Northwest, is also black. They said they would work hard to increase interest in the sport in inner-city Washington.

The news conference seemed to be aimed at positioning MacFarlane as a partner with the District, perhaps so government leaders can avoid a messy battle like the one over the city's $611 million public financing package for the Washington Nationals' stadium. During the baseball debate, city officials were often at odds with Major League Baseball and Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner.

United's ownership group has offered to pay for stadium construction in exchange for the right to build a development, including a hotel, on city-owned land, said D.C. government sources familiar with the proposal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the financing plans have not been finalized. The land, part of a 100-acre parcel transferred last month from U.S. Park Service to District control, could be worth tens of millions of dollars and would constitute significant public investment in the project.

Under the proposal, the city would reap significant tax revenue from the stadium and related development in return for the land rights.

Although the city officials at the conference yesterday did not commit to supporting public investment in a stadium, they said they would work with United to find an acceptable financing plan.

Government sources say Fenty is leaning toward backing the project as a way to kick-start development in Ward 8 along the Anacostia River. The soccer stadium would be across the river from the baseball stadium, which is being built in Ward 6 near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard.

"We obviously want the team to have the best facility possible, but we have to have a proposal first," said Fenty, who as a Ward 4 council member opposed public funding of the Nationals' stadium. "We're open to all proposals. I approach each new project differently."

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said he would support public investment in the soccer stadium as long as a significant number of affordable housing units are included. "There must be a return on our money, unlike the baseball stadium, which is the worst deal in the world," Barry said.

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