Soccer Stadium Supporters Try to Allay Funding Fears
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Prince George's County leaders and D.C. United soccer team officials sought yesterday to build community support for moving the team to the county by assuring residents that building a new stadium would not drain scarce public funds.
But team co-owner Victor MacFarlane acknowledged that Maryland would be "on the hook" if revenue generated by the stadium falls short of projections, a scenario he called unlikely because of the team's "proven track record."
"In these economic times, we understand we cannot ask for one dollar from the existing tax base, and we will not," MacFarlane said at a news conference in Largo with County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), County Council Chairman Marilynn M. Bland (D-Clinton) and other local and state officials.
The emerging partnership with Prince George's comes after plans fell apart in the District to build a stadium at Poplar Point. Since its founding in 1996, D.C. United has played at aging RFK Stadium and has long wanted a home of its own.
State lawmakers from Prince George's introduced a bill last week that would authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to sell bonds to pay for construction of a 24,000-seat venue at a potential cost of $180 million to $195 million.
MacFarlane, sketching the outline of a possible deal, said the authority would own the stadium and the team would pay about 25 percent of the cost through rent, which he estimated would add up to $50 million. The remainder would be funded through new revenue generated by the stadium, primarily from ticket sales, he said.
The team is considering several sites near Metro stations for what MacFarlane called an "urban stadium." He said the team intends to choose a location within 30 days. He has told state senators from Prince George's that the team is considering two properties at the Morgan Boulevard Metro station and a third in Largo.
One by one yesterday, Prince George's officials praised the potential economic benefits of a soccer stadium and stressed that the project would not siphon tax dollars that flow to other programs. The General Assembly is grappling with a projected $2 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year that starts in July, and Prince George's is seeking to close a gap of at least $102 million.
Backers pointed to a September 2008 study commissioned by the stadium authority that concluded that a new stadium would generate $65 million to $80 million a year in economic activity.
"For those out there concerned about using taxpayer resources, we want to dispel that rumor and put the myth to bed," said Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's), who was wearing a D.C. United lapel pin.
"We are not doing this at the expense of education or public safety," said Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's).
Amid the team spirit, however, there were some signs of unease. One person at the event wore a "Books Not Stadiums" sticker.
"I'm here because I want to know why we're building stadiums and not schools," said another skeptic, Theresa Mitchell Dudley, a teacher and community activist who opposed building what is now FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins football team in Landover.
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.