Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2009 12:00 PM
D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane said Thursday the team is committed to moving to Prince George's County. Washington Post staff writer David Nakamura took your questions about the team's plans.
The transcript follows.
David Nakamura: Hi all -- Big news on the DC United front today, with the team announcing it will move to Prince George's County. Question: Do you think this is a firm commitment to Maryland or just another bargaining tactic and that a new stadium in D.C. is still a possibility?
Bethesda, Md.: Do you forsee any way the DC government tries to counter-offer Victor MacFarlane, or is it too late already? I don't understand how the D.C. government would relate the Nationals stadium nightmare with D.C. United. The biggest difference is that D.C. United was committed to contribute a large sum of money to help build the stadium, whereas MLB required D.C. to fund the Nationals stadium. I don't see why D.C. United should suffer because of that. Your thoughts would be much appreciated.
David Nakamura: MacFarlane has been negotiating with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration for two years. MacFarlane bought the team about a month or so before Fenty took office, and they've focused on Poplar Point, a 110-acre tract of federal parkland along the Anacostia River that is being turned over District control. MacFarlane has been frustated by the Fenty Administration's slowness to commit to a stadium financing package, but remember that Fenty as a council member voted against the baseball stadium financing every chance he got. Now, in a national economic crisis, I find it hard for Fenty or any other D.C. pol -- aside from Marion Barry -- to push too hard for a publicly subsidized soccer stadium.
One option could be a new stadium near RFK, but I was told by D.C. sources that the United was not particularly enthused by the idea for various reasons. Still, the team will be playing at RFK at least 2-3 more seasons, so there could still be time.
Arlington, Va.: How close is this potential deal to becoming a reality and how soon would they start construction after a site is finalized?
David Nakamura: This is the $64,000 question. The news conference Monday will be to announce that the Prince George's statehouse delegation intends to introduce legislation that would allow the team to enter into formal talks with the Maryland Stadium Authority toward building a stadium. We don't know the financing options; MacFarlane, who met against today with the Prince George's delegation, has said he would pay 25 percent of construction costs and propose dedicated stadium-generated tax revenue to also help with the construction costs. How much the county tax payers and state might be expected to pay isn't known.
First things first, though: The legislation would have to be approved by the state legislature in the next 6 weeks. Then the discussions over a financing package would have to negotiated, which could take a while. United and the county would have to settle on a stadium site, the ground would have to go through an environmental remediation process, Metro might have to sign off if its property is involved, then construction would take 2 years.
Which is to say that a stadium is 4-5 years away minimum.
Fairfax, Va.: So what's the deadline to move into the city in order to vote against Fenty in the next election?
David Nakamura: Ha. Well, if you saw our story last week about Fenty raising $2 million in campaign cash from 2,100 donors in just three months -- 1 1/2 years before the next election -- you might want to get used to the idea of Mayor Fenty for another 6 years. The Fenty machine will be hard to beat with that kind of money.
Silver Spring, Md.: Assuming that the stadium will be built in the New Carrolton/Largo Area, it is a major improvement than the area where RFK is now. I don't know why people have this idea that all of PG is run by crime and gun violence. With the stadium literally less than 10 miles away I think you will attract a lot more of the Hispanic crowd that lives in the Hyattsville/Riverdale/Langley Park area. Fans that I'm sure DC United doesn't rely on right now at RFK.
David Nakamura: I think what people need to keep in mind is that United owner Victor MacFarlane is, first and foremost, a real estate financier. That's how he built his empire and what he has been looking for all along in buying United in late 2006 is a chance to leverage the ownership into a larger real estate deal. Though United was interested in Poplar Point before MacFarlane entered the picture, he jumped in largely because of the possibilities at Poplar, which is touted as a $2.5 billion mixed-use project. Initially, MacFarlane said he'd pay for the entire stadium -- if the city gave him development rights. But the Fenty Administration didn't like that trade. In any case, in looking at Prince George's, MacFarlane will be seeking a spot, such as near Metro sites, where he can finance other construction once the economy improves -- hotel, conference center, restaurants, etc...
Anonymous: It's simply "United" or "DC United."
You don't need (and it is wrong to include) the "the."
One says MLS or MLB, never "the MLS" or "the MLB."
David Nakamura: You sound like Doug Hicks or the other United public relations folks who always chastize us on that. Then again, one does say "The Stanford Cardinal"
Fairfax, Va.: If the new stadium is built somewhere outside of DC or Virginia, what kind of guarantee is there that it will be an "urban stadium" that is Metro accessible?
David Nakamura: Very good chance. MacFarlane is looking at three sites close to metro stations -- two at the Morgan Blvd. Metro Station and one at the Largo Town Center Metro Station. He definitely wants it to anchor additional development that would bring people to the site more than just game days.
Washington, D.C.: Will we now have to call the team the "Maryland" or "P.G." United or will "D.C." endure? So sad...
David Nakamura: Having been assigned to our Prince George's County bureau for 2 1/2 years at one point, I know that many people there hate when the county's name is shortened to "P.G." -- they point out we don't call Anne Arundel "A.A. County" for example and see it as a sign of disrespect. (Kind of like United fans hate seeing "the" in front of the team's name.) Though some point out the Washington Redskins play in Maryland, others say the "D.C." tag is more local to the city and that the team should change names if it moves.
Arlington, Va.: What will happen to the Poplar Point site, now that Clark has backed out? Does D.C. have other plans for developing that area and/or is a soccer stadium there still a possibility (however remotely)?
David Nakamura: As you say, Clark Realty Capital, which had been chosen by the Fenty administration to develop Poplar Point, dropped out two weeks ago, apparently over a disagreement with the city over timing and financing. Deputy Mayor Neil Albert said it won't set the timing back; Poplar Point will take more than a decade to develop and the city expects to re-bid the project in a year or two after the economy begins to recover and after an environmental remediation process is completed.
Eastern Market: After United leaves for the new stadium in PGC, what plans have you heard for RFK? Will it be torn down? I'm sure Dan Snyder is licking his chops...
David Nakamura: With the economic woes, not a lot of talk about redeveloping the vast RFK site just yet. But it has been in people's minds for years. Yes, word is that Snyder would love to build a new stadium there for the Redskins with a retractable roof, so he could bring a Super Bowl to Washington. To do it, he'd have to sell the Landover site to developers for enough to help cover a great deal of financing for a new stadium at RFK. The thing is that all sports owners saw what the city gave the Nats -- $674 million for the new stadium -- and want their share. But times change and you have a new mayor. RFK presents other problems because the city leases the land from the federal government; neighbors there would like to see services such as shops and restaurants, environmentalists will want to preserve and improve the Anacostia Riverfront areas, so there will be a lot of stakeholders grabbing for a piece of the site once United leaves.
Arlington, Va.: Is anyone in the D.C. government expressing regrets about about their lost opportunity?
David Nakamura: Only Marion Barry -- who has made political hay over what he calls Fenty's mishandling of soccer and Poplar Point. I think a lot of D.C. folks are skeptical that Prince George's can do this.
District of Columbia: Wow, so DC United is going to contribute far less in the PG County proposal then they would have in the DC proposal?
David Nakamura: No. This is not clear at all. MacFarlane and Prince George's officials have not specified how the stadium would be built. (In fact, that is still to be negotiated.) MacFarlane is a businessman and he'll contribute whatever he can but only if he sees a way to make a large profit on the back end; local governments will be under pressure from taxpayers not to give away too much public money unless they can justify it with increased tax revenues and services.
Silver Spring, Md.: David,
Has D.C. United released any information about the percentage of season ticket holders (or ticket buyers in general) that come from Virginia, D.C., and Maryland? I would like to know how many hardcore United fans would have a longer commute to a P.G. County stadium, and how many would have an equal or shorter commute. Thanks.
David Nakamura: This is a great question to which I don't know the answer. I will suggest that we in the Metro staff or soccer insider Steven Goff pursue that answer and follow up with a story or blog item on that.
I-270, Exit 1: So, will there ever be anything that brings development and jobs to Ward 8 residents or are they destined to the margin.
David Nakamura: Well, Poplar Point is still on the city's agenda, but it will take at least a decade, as I said. Even Gallery Place/Verizon Center took a decade to turn into what it is today and that's in the heart of the city next to a bunch of Metro hubs, with roads galore. Poplar, a narrow strip of parkland walled off from the rest of Ward 8 by I-295 with just one nearby Metro, will take a long time. But the mayor has talked of other redevelopment in the ward, including the St. Elizabeth's Hospital site.
Bethesda, Md.: Why isn't United enthused about the RFK/Hill East neighborhood? Are there no opportunities for MacFarlane to develop there? It seems like a decent location -- not as romantic as the Poplar Point site, so close to "Nats Town" -- but still better than Landover...
David Nakamura: I was told yesterday that some D.C. folks have tried to talk up the RFK area site to United, but that team President Kevin Payne conducted a study and didn't find it all that appealing for various reasons, many dealing with the complications of that site -- including environmental questions, federal government oversight and other things. I have not talked to Payne about this, however, so not sure how accurate this is coming from the D.C. officials.
Sterling, Va.: Much has been made of MacFarlane's request for $150-200 million for the stadium. How much of this is directly tied to infrastructure and other development that would be required for any plan to build on Poplar Point?
David Nakamura: i get a lot of questions and comments about the financing proposals. I should start by saying that no one --including United and the District government -- has come out forthrightly and ever talked to me about the financing. All of the options I've reported over the years have come from sources who have been privvy to private conversations. And I should also say that no financing deal has ever been agreed upon, so the specifics change all the time. MacFarlane has talked of a stadium, hotel and conference center costing somewhere up to $300 million, and how much the team pays versus the city also depends on who controls various revenue streams, etc... Most recently, MacFarlane was said to be seeking $225 million from the city in public financing, but the city was holding out for $150 million -- but this was BEFORE the economic crisis.
We've also heard that MacFarlane, who had built a golden reputation in urban investing circles, lost a lot of money on various projects across the country after the market crash (as did every other financier). So he's probably in a tough position now in terms of what he can put on the bargaining table.
Bedford Falls: You've written that United will pay $1.2 million in rent to RFK, each year for the next two years, and will control parking and concessions revenue -- is that arrangement new?
David Nakamura: yes, I was told yesterday that those are new terms being finalized between the team and D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
N. Bethesda, Md.: According to P.G. (sorry) Exec. Jack Johnson (right now on WAMU), "We have pretty much closed the deal. I expect to announce something on Monday." "Probably at the Blvd."
Does this comport with your reporting?
David Nakamura: My colleague Rosalind Helderman, who writes about Prince George's and has been at the Annapolis state house this term, said MacFarlane and Prince George's officials met again this morning (after a smaller group meeting yesterday) and she'll be updating our Maryland Moment and D.C. Wire blogs. We'll cross post on Soccer Insider too, as we get more news. Johnson is talking big and I'm sure they've nailed down general principles, but I suspect a financing deal still has not been finalized.
22201: Mr. Nakamura,
Your reporting on Poplar Point has included the alleged fact that a stadium at Poplar Point would have required public funds of $150-$200 million or more. But wasn't the stadium only one-third (13 acres out of 40 or thereabouts) of the larger project? Also, there was a Plan B in which there would be no stadium, but rather all 40 acres devoted to various sorts of mixed-use development. Would Plan B have required any less public investment in infrastructure (sewers, roads, etc.)? And wouldn't MacFarlane's original (pre-Clark) proposal, which the District rejected, have required less public funding than either Clark's Plan A or Plan B?
David Nakamura: First, MacFarlane wanted to build the stadium with his own money if he could control (much/all of) the Poplar Point development. City said no way. Then city picked Clark Realty to be the developers and MacFarlane was angling to get his stadium/hotel as part of the larger development deal with Clark. Nothing had been finalized. The key question for the Fenty administration and D.C. Council has been whether the stadium would bring enough tax dollars and fans to justify the (relatively) large footprint and public subsidies required to built it. Or would it be better to build more housing, offices, movie theaters, bowling alleys, shopping malls, etc... that would be more valuable. Yes, the pride of having a pro sports team also was being weighed and lots of Ward 8 residents came down on both sides, as did city leaders. Same questions are playing out in Prince George's right now.
Arlington, Va.: How much of this is just a bluff to get the DC government to allow MacFarlane's original proposal, the one that Fenty walked away from before starting that alleged "competition"?
David Nakamura: Well, good question. This is easily the most seriously MacFarlane has talked of moving the team. There is a big press announcement scheduled for Monday to provide more details. The Prince George's deal could ultimately falter for the same reasons as the D.C. deal -- too many hurdles, disagreements over funding, etc... SO you never know, but I get the sense that MacFarlane and Payne are fed up with D.C. government.
Greebelt : I have zero interest in soccer; but I'll be first in line for "P.G. United" clothing.
David Nakamura: That's "money" to United's ears!
Fairfax, Va.: As a Virginian, Maryland is basically a blank space on my mental map... Are any of the potential sites near restaurants/bars, tailgate areas?
David Nakamura: Well, part of the reason to build a new stadium is to get some ancillary development like this nearby. But the actual end result has always been mixed around new stadiums.
Bethesda, Md.: Why can't United just try to build a new, smaller stadium on the land in the RFK parking lots? Or, why can't they share the new Nationals' stadium? (Why wasn't that built as a multi-use venue)?
David Nakamura: I think we talked about the RFK question. As to sharing Nats stadium -- neither United nor the Nats want that. United wants a soccer-only arena to be more fan-friendly and to control advertising and revenue streams. Nats owners paid $450 million for the team and don't want anything to compromise their earning potential.
Bethesda, Md.: Is there any kind of projected time-line here for reaching a real deal with the Stadium Authority and any other Maryland authorities (I'm guessing it won't be strictly a stadium deal -- I imagine there will be associated development, if DCU expects to recoup a $45-50 million investment)?
I ask because I'm wondering if there's any reason to think this just might be an opening bid, to put pressure on D.C. officials to move more quickly on Poplar Point, or other sites?
David Nakamura: Basically, this is mostly an announcement to say: United and Prince George's/Maryland are beginning serious negotiations. But those things could fall through. United wants a new stadium asap-- but it'll still take years no matter where it gets built. Stay tuned over the coming year for details of how they work out a financing package, etc... before you get to excited/disappointed.
Bedford Falls: Thanks and followup: If United now gets the parking and concessions money, and the rent is a paltry $1.2 million/year, they've got to be able to operate in the black based on that, right?
David Nakamura: I'm sorry to say I'm not privvy to United's financial books. Our soccer writer might have a better idea. MacFarlane has told me he loses $10 million a year. But Erik Moses, chief executive of the D.C. Sports Commission, basically told me yesterday that they've tried to work with United to give them a better deal at RFK and this is what worked for both sides for the next two years.
Alexandria, Va.: David, in your opinion, would a soccer stadium (run by the DCSEC and used by DC United) have been built at Poplar Point by now had MLB never opted to move the Expos to D.C.?
Is there any hope that the D.C. government and D.C. United might work together at this point and be able to keep United in D.C. (after they leave RFK)?
David Nakamura: No. The stadium still wouldn't have been built at Poplar Point. The primary reason is that Poplar is still controlled by the federal government. The city has to jump through a lot of hurdles to get control of that land -- including an environmental remediation of 18 months (going on now) and relocating the National Park Service and lots of other things. That's even before talk of financing and construction.
D.C. United fan in D.C.: Please tell me there's been NO talk of renaming the team if they move outside of D.C.
Regardless, I would hate to see United leave the District - but at least they're looking to build near a Metro station, unlike another team that left D.C. for a new stadium...
David Nakamura: The only talk of renaming has been from fans wondering if the team will have to pick a new name. That would be tough considering United's stellar history with all those championships. But presumably the United part will live on no matter initials come before it.
David Nakamura: Thanks to everyone who wrote in. Great questions and stay tuned to the Post for a lot more news on all these developments over the next weeks and months.
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