D.C. United Wants $225M From District for Stadium

Council member Marion Barry backs the stadium.
Council member Marion Barry backs the stadium. (Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post)
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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2008

D.C. United officials continued to lobby the District government yesterday for $225 million in public money for a new stadium, far more than some city leaders say they would support.

In addition, even the amount officials have considered, $150 million, has raised some concern with D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, whose analysis has concluded such a deal could push the government above a Wall Street debt ceiling that he recommended last year.

On the day The Washington Post disclosed that a coalition of D.C. Council members was drafting legislation to authorize the $150 million for the stadium in Southeast, United officials and city leaders met for another round of negotiations. The political fallout from the publicity over the stadium plan was making some council members skittish, city government sources said.

Member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said yesterday that he expects to be part of a group that will submit legislation at the council's meeting Tuesday that would authorize Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to spend $150 million on a 27,000-seat stadium. "We are collectively and collaboratively trying to get a soccer stadium, and legislation is one way to get it done," Barry said.

Barry said that he, Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) have been taking the lead on the issue in the council.

But Gray said yesterday that he has not agreed to a financing plan. Gray acknowledged that he met with Barry, Evans and member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) during the annual retailers convention in Las Vegas two weeks ago to discuss a stadium. Gray said he wants to do more research about stadium financing and does not expect a proposal to come Tuesday.

Evans declined to comment. Sources close to the negotiations said Evans is willing to co-sponsor the legislation if United works out a deal with Fenty's office over the amount of the public subsidy by tomorrow.

Under the proposal being discussed, the city would fund $150 million in construction bonds with excess tax revenue being collected to pay for Nationals Park. United would be responsible for anything above that amount. The soccer complex would be part of a larger, mixed-use development in Poplar Point, 110 acres along the Anacostia River in Ward 8. Barry has said the efforts would help push along economic development east of the Anacostia River, where poverty and unemployment are high.

United majority partner Victor B. MacFarlane was in Europe yesterday. Four of his representatives met separately with Barry and Neil O. Albert, the deputy mayor for economic development. Team officials declined to comment, as did MacFarlane spokeswoman Julie Chase.

City officials said the project remains tenuous because Fenty and the council recall the extended political fight over the public financing of the Washington Nationals' $611 million stadium project. That proposal, from then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), divided the city, and the council deliberated for nearly two years before giving final approval. Fenty, who as a council member opposed the baseball stadium, has been reluctant to take the lead on the soccer deal. Although Gray has voiced support for the project, he also has been hesitant to get out front, said city sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are ongoing.

Barry and Evans want at least seven of the 13 council members to co-sponsor the bill before they introduce it, in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the baseball fight, the sources said.

Member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who voted against the baseball deal, said he needs more information. "I can't give you an intelligent response until I know what we're talking about," he said. "This is all about the numbers."

Member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he might be willing to support the plan if it is fiscally responsible because Ward 8 needs an economic catalyst.

"Let's build it," member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) said.

Even if the council moves forward, Gandhi will have to determine whether to endorse the project. Under the law, the District may accrue debt service of up to 18 percent of its total expenditures. In a letter to the council last year, Gandhi recommended a 12 percent cap, with a goal of not exceeding 10 percent. The city is at 9.5 percent and could reach 12 percent by 2010. The soccer stadium would push it above that, Gandhi's office said. Gandhi declined to comment yesterday.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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