Team Now Asking Pr. George's to Pay Part

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Prince George's County should sell at least $47 million in bonds to help build a stadium for the D.C. United professional soccer team, team officials told council members yesterday, a change of financing plans that prompted some council members to express skepticism about the project.

Team owner Victor MacFarlane and Gary A. McGuigan, the project executive at the Maryland Stadium Authority, said yesterday that the current deal, under which only the stadium authority would issue bonds to build the 24,000-seat venue, should be amended to require the county's financial involvement.

"This was a county initiative," said McGuigan, who noted that Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) wooed D.C. United from the District after negotiations to build a stadium at Poplar Point stalled in 2007. Johnson also asked the stadium authority to commission a study to look at the economic benefits of building a facility in Prince George's instead.

The current deal calls for D.C. United to pay 25 percent of the estimated $180 million to $195 million cost of its new home. The remainder would be financed by tax revenue generated at the stadium, primarily from ticket sales.

The original deal did not require a county contribution, but team and stadium authority officials now say legislation should be amended to include one.

Iris Boswell, the deputy chief administrative officer for the county Office of Finance, said yesterday that she could not comment on how much financial support the county might be able to give because of numerous unanswered questions.

Council members expressed reservations about the county being responsible for paying off the bonds if tax revenue from the stadium falls short of projections, and raised concerns about the team's attendance predictions. MacFarlane said his team has attracted about 20,000 fans per game in a "rickety stadium" and expects a 20 percent increase in attendance in a new one.

Council members also peppered MacFarlane and team President Kevin Payne with questions about the report commissioned by the stadium authority, including a finding that the stadium would generate $65 million to $80 million a year in economic activity.

Council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) said an average of 21,500 fans attended each game in 2001, a figure that dropped by 25 percent in 2002. Payne said the team's attendance was unusually high in 2001, which skewed the numbers for the year.

"You say look at the math. I'm looking at the math and it's troubling," Dernoga said.

"What happens if attendance doesn't come in like you think? Who fills the gap?" asked council member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills). "People want to know if they are going to be hit today or tomorrow."

Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), who supports building a stadium, suggested that D.C. United provide lawmakers with "concrete numbers" they can use to convince constituents that the proposal is financially sound. Several council members suggested that the county's audit and investigations staff review the deal.

"I have trouble justifying it to my constituents," Dernoga said.

A House of Delegates committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation March 17.

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