The effort to build a soccer stadium at Poplar Point, overlooking the Anacostia River, got a boost last night as D.C. Council member Marion Barry told hundreds of residents that the proposal could be a boon to communities that have longed for new investment.
"At first I was opposed to a stadium at Poplar Point," the former mayor told hundreds of people at Ballou Senior High School during an event sponsored by D.C. United and the Anacostia Coordinating Council.
Barry (D-Ward 8) said he changed his mind after he realized that the plan could bring as much as $1 billion in new investment to his ward and provide more than 3,000 units of housing, some of which would be set aside for first-time homeowners and those earning low wages. "It makes sense," Barry said. "A stadium by itself didn't make sense."
The first hour of the meeting could have been mistaken for a high school pep rally, as Ballou students performed skits, sang gospel songs and swayed to the sounds of the school's marching band. D.C. United offered free food and soccer balls to those who attended.
It was evident that the meeting was designed to change public opinion about a proposal that has been viewed skeptically by many who live nearest the Southeast site. Detractors remain upset that city leaders decided to build a stadium for the Washington Nationals across the Anacostia, near Capitol Hill.
Skepticism ran high. "I want to make sure that this is not one of those events where people come in and feed these black folks, give them something cold to drink and tell our kids they can practice with the team every now and then," Paul Kearney, a resident of Anacostia, said before the presentation. "I want to know what we get out of it."
Team officials tried to oblige, pledging to be a good neighbor by giving first priority for jobs to Ward 8 residents, by working with city leaders to make some of the new housing affordable and by urging children from surrounding neighbors to play soccer. Concerts and, on occasion, public school sporting events would also be held at the site. Kevin Payne, chief executive of D.C. United, was applauded when he promised that the team would start an internship program for city youths.
"One [message] that resounds in meeting after meeting is, 'We want opportunity. Bring our kids opportunity, and bring our community opportunity,' " Payne said. "We believe you are looking at opportunity."
He said the stadium would have about 27,000 seats and, along with shopping and housing, take up about 40 acres of a 100-acre site. Federal officials had promised to transfer the federally owned site to the District, but there is also a proposal in Congress that could put the land on the open market.
Whatever happens in those negotiations, residents last night voiced concern about being left out.
Questions from the audience focused on who would be displaced, who would get the jobs and whether the new housing actually would be affordable to residents in a ward where the median household income is $26,000.
Some were not convinced that current residents would end up living in the new housing. "A lot of people have a whole lot of questions that are not answered," said Taseeta Samuel.
For Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner T'Chaka Sapp, the question was whether nearby residents would have a real shot at contracts to supply popcorn, sell beer or water or even to wash the clothes and linens.
"We want some wealthy folks to come out of this thing," said Sapp, who also asked why there weren't more black people involved in the team's leadership. "I need to see someone in leadership who looks like me."