Major Investor MacFarlane Sells Share of United

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 22, 2009

Victor MacFarlane, a major investor in D.C. United whose efforts to build a mid-size soccer stadium have repeatedly stalled, will sell his stake in the MLS club to partner Will Chang, the team announced yesterday.

Chang, chairman of an international investment group based in San Francisco, and MacFarlane, a longtime associate in the Bay Area, purchased United's operating rights in 2007 from Anschutz Entertainment Group for $33 million.

MacFarlane was unable to complete a large development deal with local governments. Chang yesterday emphasized a smaller-scale project that could improve the team's chances of completing a stadium deal and staying in the region.

After not being closely involved in previous stadium negotiations, Chang said yesterday that United President Kevin Payne will remain the locally based point man for future projects. Chang added, however: "I am not looking for a big real estate deal. I am looking for a bread-and-butter stadium [without mixed-use development]. I'm not looking for a Poplar Point project; I'm just looking for a home for this team."

Addressing the prospects of United leaving the area, Chang said that "my first and foremost priority is to find a home in the D.C. area." He also said that he has not been formally approached by representatives from cities seeking to relocate the team.

"Is there a sense of urgency [in getting a stadium built]? Absolutely," he said. "But I am under no time pressure. If it takes a little longer to get it done right, that's okay."

MacFarlane and Chang had equal shares in United, totaling about 98 percent control of the club, sources said. Chang, 53, has been the face of the investment group, regularly attending home and away matches, mingling at tailgate parties in the RFK Stadium parking lots and mixing with fans in the stands.

"It's the same coaches, the same front office and I am still going to be the same guy having fun with the fans in Lot 8 at RFK, beating the drum with the Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles just like the old Will Chang," he said. "One of the owners decided to sell and focus on his business. Nothing is going to change."

In a written statement, MacFarlane said he will "devote greater attention to MacFarlane Partners [his real estate investment group] and my projects in multiple cities coast to coast."

Since the pair took charge, MacFarlane has remained largely behind the scenes and focused on forging a public-private partnership with a local jurisdiction to build a 24,000-seat stadium with mixed-use development surrounding it. Proposed projects at Poplar Point, a 110-acre swath of parkland along the Anacostia River in the District, and in Prince George's County fizzled amid political and economic divides.

Chang declined to address whether MacFarlane's reasons for divesting centered on the inability to reach a stadium deal, which club officials say is essential to United's long-term economic viability. United has played all 14 seasons at RFK Stadium, a 48-year-old facility whose seating capacity (46,000) is too large for United (which averaged nearly 20,000 last year), has fallen into poor condition and lacks the amenities of modern facilities being built throughout MLS.

In its agreement with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK, United collects only a modest portion of game-day revenue and relies heavily on ticket sales and sponsorships.

In recent months, MacFarlane grew increasingly frustrated with the process and expressed growing concern about the club's financial situation at RFK. MLS Commissioner Don Garber told The Post last month that, if a stadium deal wasn't finalized in the near future, United might have to relocate outside the Washington area.

Financial issues also seem to have played a role in MacFarlane's decision. A nearly $1 billion land deal he orchestrated in California went bankrupt and he placed his 20,000-square-foot penthouse atop the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco on the market.

With MacFarlane out of the picture, Chang's remaining partners are from a group led by Brian Davis and Christian Laettner, former Duke basketball players with a real estate development business and a small investment in the team.

Chang wouldn't rule out the possibility of adding to the investment team, saying, "I'll keep myself open to any discussions, but I'm not actively looking."

Said Garber: "I'm sorry Victor decided to leave the league, but I have great confidence that, with Will's passion and leadership, United will not miss a beat."

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