Proposals for two major league sports stadiums that would face each other across the Anacostia River evolved independently, D.C. officials said yesterday, calling it a coincidence that the locations of the playing fields -- one for baseball, one for soccer -- were both made public this week.
Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, has been at the center of talks regarding both projects. The stadiums would bookend the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge on South Capitol Street, with baseball on the river's north shore and soccer on the south.
"The two were looked at on their own merits, not as part of a grand design," Tuohey said in an interview. But now that both sports arenas are close to becoming a reality, he said, attention is focusing on whether and how the two fields might be linked to form a cross-river complex.
"City stadiums are successful where you combine the stadium with economic stimulus in the surrounding area," Tuohey said. "Having the stadiums in close proximity I think benefits the entire area around them."
News of the soccer stadium yesterday stunned residents east of the Anacostia River, where some of the city's poorest neighborhoods have complained for years about a lack of economic development.
Apart from surprise, reaction was mixed. Some residents said they welcome any form of economic development, as well as the prospect of jobs. Arrington Dixon, a Ward 8 businessman who heads the Anacostia Coordinating Council, called it "a great idea. Any activity on this side of the river is a good thing."
But other civic leaders expressed skepticism about the project, saying it is not likely to offer much to average families in Ward 8, few of which play soccer.
"I don't care if it's built by the government or a private developer, our community doesn't benefit," said Absalom Jordan, a Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner. Jordan complained that the city is providing homes for baseball and soccer teams when it can't provide housing for the very poor. Besides, he asked, "what's wrong with RFK Stadium? It has the Metro and parking, and it's paid for."
Sports and planning officials offered additional details yesterday about the soccer project, saying a development plan and financing package for the stadium, estimated to cost $70 million to $100 million, could be presented to the D.C. Council for approval by the end of the year.
They said the 25,000-seat stadium would serve not only as a home for the D.C. United soccer team but also would host outdoor music concerts in the summer like those at Wolf Trap and Nissan Pavilion. Plans also call for neighborhood recreation fields, up to 300 housing units and retail shops in the area near the Anacostia Metro station, transforming a forgotten slice of the city that has long clamored for economic activity.
Although much of the development would be on private land, a portion of the stadium probably would be built on National Park Service land near Poplar Point, according to Tuohey and Stephen Green, a special assistant in the mayor's Office of Planning and Economic Development. Green said the city is waiting for D.C. United to provide it with a specific site plan, which could happen as soon as next week.
Park Service officials confirmed that they have participated in preliminary talks about the project. Spokesman Bill Line said any development would require public hearings and approval by the Commission on Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, a process that could take several months.
Sports and planning officials said the stadium would be owned by the sports commission and funded in large part by D.C. United's owner, billionaire Phil Anschutz, and a handful of other private investors. Anschutz, who owns four other Major League Soccer teams, recently paid for a 27,000-seat stadium for the Los Angeles Galaxy and is planning a stadium in Chicago.
The city also would contribute financially, Green and Tuohey said, probably by dedicating sales taxes collected from the private development around the stadium. A ticket tax also is under discussion.
But the team is "proposing to pay for a significant portion of it through direct cash contributions and a lease payment," Green said. "This would be a true partnership."
In an interview, developer John E. "Chip" Akridge III confirmed that he has been working with the team to help it obtain another stadium but said that he has not purchased or optioned any land. "There is no specific location settled on yet," he said.
If built, Akridge said, the stadium probably would be about 250,000 square feet and could be constructed on less than five acres of land.
Although talk of a soccer stadium has circulated for more than a year around the sports commission and certain committees of the D.C. Council, some council members heard about it for the first time yesterday.
Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) said she would support it if there was a promise for permanent jobs in her district. Former mayor Marion Barry, who recently won a Democratic primary battle to replace Allen in January, did not respond to messages left with a campaign aide.
Other council members predicted that the soccer stadium would cause just as much controversy as the baseball stadium because of the proposed use of public funds.
Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) said any kind of tax contribution to a stadium for a billionaire "is not going to have any support from the community. People know if you stand firm, these people will build it themselves."
Staff writers Steven Goff, Dana Hedgpeth and Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.