Fenty Eyes Public Funds for Soccer Stadium

Ward 8 residents are pushing to use a soccer stadium as a catalyst to develop Poplar Point, along the Anacostia River.
Ward 8 residents are pushing to use a soccer stadium as a catalyst to develop Poplar Point, along the Anacostia River. (By Alexandra Garcia --
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has proposed using public funds to build a professional soccer stadium in Southeast Washington that would cost as much as $190 million, a drastic departure from his stance against public financing of the Nationals baseball stadium.

In a private meeting with the D.C. Council yesterday, Fenty (D) said the District has been collecting $20 million a year in excess revenue from city taxes related to the financing of the baseball stadium, according to government sources with knowledge of the meeting.

Fenty said the city could use that revenue to pay for construction bonds for a 27,000-seat soccer stadium for D.C. United, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private. Such a plan could prove controversial in the business community, which has been paying additional taxes since 2004 toward the baseball project. The District instead could choose to use the excess tax money to retire the 30-year baseball stadium bonds early, city officials said.

Fenty, who as a council member repeatedly voted against public financing of the $611 million baseball stadium, declined to comment yesterday. Since taking office, he has been under increasing pressure from Ward 8 residents to use a soccer stadium as a catalyst to develop a barren 110-arce parcel, known as Poplar Point, along the Anacostia River.

The mayor plans to announce at a news conference in Anacostia today that he has selected Clark Realty Capital, a Bethesda-based company, as the master developer of Poplar Point.

Clark, which won an open competition for the site, proposed a mixed-use development that includes housing, retail, a 70-acre park mandated by the federal government, a hub of businesses dedicated to the environment, a charter school and a three-block "deck" built over Interstate 295 so that Anacostia residents can walk to Poplar Point. An optional stadium was also included.

When asked about the discussions in the meeting, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who has backed a stadium, said: "My understanding is that a stadium will be part of the deal. The community has been empowered and their voices heard."

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who voted against the baseball financing, said, "We learned in the baseball debate that the public is leery of public financing, and there are many who will say, 'Here we go again.' "

D.C. United has been threatening to move to Prince George's County after Fenty broke off informal negotiations with team owner Victor B. MacFarlane in July. Fenty thought MacFarlane's plan, which required $350 million in public subsidies for infrastructure, was too expensive for the city.

"We do not have any deal with the District," said Julie Chase, a spokeswoman for MacFarlane.

United plays at the 47-year-old RFK stadium and will be the sole tenant there after the Nationals move in spring into their new ballpark, near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street SE.

Fenty has said repeatedly that he would try to keep United in the District. But according to government sources, he has feared supporting a publicly financed soccer stadium lest he become embroiled in the kind of bitter, lengthy political fight that his predecessor, Anthony A. Williams (D), waged over the baseball stadium project.

Williams fought for almost two years before the council gave final approval to the baseball financing package. Among the highlights of the negotiations was a night in 2005 when the council voted to reject one version of the deal, only to reverse course and approve it about 1 a.m.

Fenty, the sources said, wants to ensure that he has the support of the majority of the council before he makes a public announcement.

Even if the council agreed to use public money for a soccer stadium, the larger Poplar Point development project is likely to cost much more in public funds. The Clark proposal could cost $200 million to $350 million for infrastructure, including roads, sewers, lights and the park. Some of those costs almost certainly would fall on the city.

Administration officials will negotiate with Clark Realty for the next six to nine months to nail down the development plan. Environmental remediation could take as long as 1 1/2 years before construction begins, officials have said. The overall plans could take more than a decade to realize, officials said, although the soccer stadium probably would be in the first wave of building, within three to four years.

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