D.C. United Shops for Land; Md. Legislators Aren't Sold

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 7, 2009; Page B01

Even as the D.C. United soccer team moves forward with selection of a site for a new stadium in Prince George's County, some state lawmakers are expressing skepticism over legislation that would allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to sell bonds to construct the $195 million facility.

Their concerns include whether the stadium would produce enough revenue to pay off 75 percent of the bonds issued for its construction. Team officials have said they would pay 25 percent of the stadium's cost and insist that the remainder would be funded with revenue generated at soccer games and other events.

But Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George's) said the numbers might not be realistic. "We're crying broke and making funds for an entertainment venue," he said. "It's bad timing, no matter how you try to couch it."

A feasibility study issued by the stadium authority assumed at least 39 and as many 48 events would be held in addition to the 15 to 25 Major League Soccer games that would be played at the stadium each year, an assumption that deserves more serious discussion before it is accepted, some lawmakers said.

"I think it's an interesting opportunity, but there's a lot of groundwork that needs to be done," said Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George's). "I'm not sure we necessarily need legislation this year."

A House of Delegates hearing is scheduled for March 17.

Although questions continue to swirl around the legislation, the team has selected a parcel of land adjacent to the Morgan Boulevard Metro station as its first choice for the site, according to a county official and a state lawmaker familiar with the discussions.

David Byrd, deputy chief administrative officer for economic development, said D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane has indicated that the 37-acre property near the Metro station, which is owned by Metro, is the team's first choice for the 24,000-seat stadium.

A spokeswoman for Metro said that the agency has not received any proposals to build on the property but that it would welcome them.

Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George's), whose district would include the venue, said team officials have told lawmakers that the property, which is in the vicinity of FedEx Field, would require the least amount of infrastructure improvements, which would keep costs down. Benson said she has not taken a position on the project because she is concerned about the expense.

D.C. United chief executive Kevin Payne said the deal would not require spending existing revenue or lottery funds.

Payne would not comment on the site. Asked whether the team has decided on the Metro property, Payne said: "I don't think that's entirely accurate." The team has looked at about seven sites and has reduced the number under consideration to two or three.

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