D.C. United keeps hunting for a stadium site

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, January 17, 2011

D.C. United has renewed its hunt for a stadium in the District, and has discussed "at least four" sites with city officials, according to team president Kevin Payne.

In an interview, Payne declined to name or comment on sites but a leading contender, according to city officials, is Buzzards Point in Southwest Washington, where developer Akridge owns nine acres southwest of the Nationals' ballpark.

Last fall, Akridge President Matt Klein and D.C. Council Member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) discussed the site, which is largely used for parking now.

Wells said last week that he isn't sure how a stadium would be financed, particularly with the city facing an expected $400 million-plus budget shortfall next year, but that a stadium on Buzzards Point would enliven the neighborhood. The Akridge property is between First and Second and R and V streets SW, a neighborhood that has seen little new development. "It's an area that really could be a great place for soccer, but also a great place to have more commerce and retail on the west side of South Capitol," Wells said.

Another area the team has looked at is the Capital City Market in Northeast Washington, a sprawling wholesale marketplace. Bruce Baschuk, chairman of developer the J Street Cos. and of the NoMa Business Improvement District, said he showed Payne the neighborhood as an alternative to Buzzards Point, though it would require major infrastructure changes.

"We certainly have approached the leadership of D.C. United about considering it," Baschuk said.

After a number of failed bids at other sites in recent years, United feels a sense of urgency. The commissioner of Major League Soccer, Don Garber, reiterated on Jan. 13 the team's need to move out of RFK Stadium, saying United "must have a solution because what they have right now is not working." Baltimore is presenting itself as an option, with the Maryland Stadium Authority completing a stadium feasibility study in December. Earlier last week majority owner Will Chang, speaking at a Washington Post event, said he did not want to move the team to Baltimore but did not rule it out.

Payne said in an interview that Baltimore had been more aggressive than the District and that "there is a point at which you just say okay, they don't want us here."

Like the team, Akridge may be feeling a sense of urgency to focus on Buzzards Point. It bought the property from Pepco Holdings for $75 million in 2005 and has been marketing Buzzards Point as ideal for a federal office building. The neighborhood has failed to attract one, in part because of its distance from Metrorail.

Wells said that he would like to see the city's planned streetcar system run to Buzzards Point, particularly if a soccer stadium is built. "I certainly am very interested in keeping a soccer stadium in the District," he said. "I would like to integrate it with the streetcar."

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