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Talks Fall Apart On Stadium for D.C. Soccer Team

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 21, 2007

Negotiations to build a soccer stadium for D.C. United in Southeast Washington have collapsed, leading District officials to pursue other options for the site and team officials to threaten to move the franchise out of the city, government sources said yesterday.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration had been negotiating for months with D.C. United's principal investor, real estate magnate Victor A. MacFarlane, over the team's proposal to build a 27,000-seat stadium in Ward 8, just across the Anacostia River from the Washington Nationals' new ballpark.

But the negotiations stalled over the financial terms. Although United offered to pay for the $150 million stadium, it asked for about $200 million in city subsidies, including roads, tax incentives and the right to develop additional land, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were private.

Administration officials have decided to look at other options for the site, which is part of a 110-acre piece of federal land known as Poplar Point that is scheduled to be transferred to the District in the fall. The city will seek proposals from interested developers over the next two months, the sources said, with the focus on housing and retail. A soccer stadium still could be part of the mix but is not a top priority, the sources said.

Verizon Center, the downtown indoor sports arena, has been credited with playing a key role in the revitalization of its neighborhood; the economic impact of soccer stadiums appears less understood. D.C. United's attendance has averaged about 17,000 a game over the years.

During the negotiations, D.C. United officials suggested they would consider moving to Maryland or Virginia, possibly the Baltimore or Loudoun County areas, if the District was unable to help build a new stadium, the sources said. United plays at 46-year-old RFK Stadium and had hoped to have a new facility by 2009 or 2010.

"We're keeping our options open," said Julie Chase, a spokeswoman for MacFarlane. "We need a new stadium somewhere in the D.C. area. I can't put parameters on that."

Fenty's spokeswoman, Carrie Brooks, said in a statement last night: "Poplar Point represents a once in a lifetime development opportunity for the District of Columbia. A competitive process for the disposition of this land could provide the District with great ideas on how best to meet city objectives that include workforce development, affordable housing, great parkland, and sustainable development."

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who championed the publicly funded $611 million baseball stadium, said of United: "It would be very unfortunate if they left the city. The stadium was a good idea, but the question was always who would pay for it. . . . I can understand their frustration, because they were led to believe the city very much was trying to make this happen."

Evans said another option that had been discussed is construction of a soccer stadium next to RFK, which would then be torn down.

Administration officials consider Poplar Point to be a unique development opportunity: a massive waterfront property in the city's poorest ward. But deciding what to do with the land has been the subject of much discussion.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) has supported the stadium, but residents have been divided. Some agreed that the stadium would help bring new investors and opportunity; others voiced concern that it would not include affordable housing and jobs for residents.

Then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) backed the stadium, but Fenty had been noncommittal. MacFarlane, a wealthy San Francisco real estate investor, bought United in January and pledged to work with Ward 8 to build a mixed-use development.

MacFarlane pledged to build a youth athletic field in Ward 8 and has attended numerous community meetings. He and other team officials are scheduled to attend D.C. United Family Fun Day tomorrow at Ketcham Elementary School on 15th Street SE, an event that was billed as a way to "publicly share the club's vision for a stadium at Poplar Point."

United President Kevin Payne declined to comment through a spokesman.

The team is the most successful franchise in Major League Soccer history, having won four league titles in 11 seasons.

Since 1999, MLS teams in Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto and Columbus, Ohio, have moved into new medium-sized facilities. The New York and Salt Lake City clubs have also broken ground on new facilities.

"We have put forth a very expansive plan that obviously addresses the needs of the soccer team and the soccer fans," Chase said. "We have also been addressing the needs and wants in Ward 8, where people are interested in improved community opportunities, retail and jobs."

Staff writers Steven Goff and Martin Weil contributed to this report.

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