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United's Shot Is Blocked By Vote

D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane, left, at a February news conference to announce the team's desire to move to Prince George's County. Council members voted to oppose legislation to authorize a study of stadium construction.
D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane, left, at a February news conference to announce the team's desire to move to Prince George's County. Council members voted to oppose legislation to authorize a study of stadium construction. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Ovetta Wiggins and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Prince George's County Council probably killed D.C. United's planned move to the county yesterday, voting to oppose legislation that would have authorized the state to study construction of a professional soccer stadium.

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Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George's) said the council's lack of support "guarantees a quick and final death" for the study bill.

A council committee took a similar vote two weeks ago, recommending rejection of a bill authorizing planning for the 24,000-seat stadium.

Council Chairman Marilynn Bland (D-Clinton), who supported plans to build the stadium in the county, released a statement hours after that vote saying the committee's decision was not final and later told Norman H. Conway (D-Wicomico), chairman of the House Appropriations committee, that the full council would probably support the legislation.

Instead, the council voted 8 to 0 to send a letter to the county delegation's chairmen in the House of Delegates and the Senate, outlining their concerns with the state bill. Council member Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) was absent.

"The County Council has not been appropriately and sufficiently advised, consulted or engaged in the discussions of the proposed stadium," Bland wrote.

Bland said yesterday that she is concerned about whether county money would be spent on the project if stadium revenue proves to be less than projected. Originally, the state was slated to issue bonds to cover 75 percent of the cost of the stadium, which could reach $195 million. But team executives told council members last month that the bill should be amended to give the county a financial role, leaving some officials skeptical.

"We're not interested [in the stadium] under the terms that they came to us with," said council member Eric Olson (D-College Park). "If they were to pay all of it or a substantial amount, we could have another discussion, but it was clear that this was not what we could find acceptable."

D.C. United spokesman Doug Hicks said in a statement that the team is "of course disappointed at the outcome of this vote. It's certainly unusual for an elected body to decide it would rather not learn the facts of a proposed opportunity. We will continue conversations with other jurisdictions regarding a future home for D.C. United."

Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Prince George's), who supported the bill, said the council's previous actions had made the bill largely a nonissue. "Why are they still voting?" he said. "The chairman's position was that he wanted to see council support for the bill, and it doesn't appear to be there. . . . Once it's dead, you can't keep shooting it."

As negotiations to build a stadium at Poplar Point in the District began to stall in 2007, Prince George's officials approached team co-owner Victor MacFarlane about locating the team in the county. In February, with great fanfare, team and elected officials announced that the team wanted to come to Prince George's.

Proponents of the stadium project have tried to assure residents that it would not be a financial drain on the county and would promote economic development. But some state lawmakers expressed skepticism about whether the stadium would raise enough revenue to pay off 75 percent of the bonds issued for its construction.

The amended bill calls for the state to study the costs and benefits of building a stadium. It also would allow the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to buy land from Metro, with county approval, for a stadium, a new headquarters and a mixed-used development on the site.

Council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale), who represents the district where the proposed stadium would have been, said yesterday that her constituents were not happy about plans to build the facility in their community, not far from FedEx Field.

"I had to weigh all of that and be sensitive to that," Harrison said.

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