Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and a representative for billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz met with high-level D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission officials yesterday to continue discussions about building a 25,000-seat soccer stadium near RFK Stadium.
In separate meetings, Garber and Kevin Payne -- head of soccer operations for Anschutz Entertainment Group, a company owned by Anschutz that runs six MLS teams, including D.C. United -- discussed the project with DCSEC Chairman John Richardson and commission president and executive director Bobby Goldwater.
"The time is right to give it closer and more intense consideration," Richardson said. "It's time to move, for everyone involved. I'm very hopeful it will happen."
A financial structure and stadium concepts are being discussed by the parties involved. Payne said AEG would help pay for the project. "There's no question we are willing to participate with an equity position," Payne said, without elaborating on how much AEG would be willing to spend.
"We're not going to begin the real full-out public process immediately," he added. "We'll wait until the budget conversations between the mayor's office and the [city] council are a little more out of the way. At that point we will begin to become more visible in terms of our approach to the city."
AEG has financed a new stadium for the MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy in Carson, Calif., which will open in June, and appears close to reaching a deal to help build a facility in Harrison, N.J., for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
A D.C. project would include other facilities -- including additional fields -- built around the soccer stadium and generally upgrade the area near the Anacostia River.
Richardson and Goldwater toured the Galaxy project recently. "It's something special," Richardson said.
The sports commission's higher-profile pursuit involves trying to persuade Major League Baseball to relocate the Montreal Expos to the District, where a new stadium would replace RFK as the team's home after a few seasons. But according to Richardson, building a soccer stadium might make more financial sense. "AEG is here. They have a team. It's a functioning team," he said. "Baseball has a lot more uncertainties than soccer. Soccer is based on reality, not projections."
If the Expos move to Washington, "it would create some challenges for us," Garber said in terms of scheduling games and maintaining a soccer field at RFK. "It would not be easy."
But, Garber said, "we are pretty confident that [the city] has a commitment to the team and a commitment to soccer fans in this market. We're hopeful that they continue with their quest to try to pursue a baseball team that ultimately raises the public funds to construct a complex at RFK, and we think we'll be part of that complex."
Said Goldwater: "Baseball is a priority, and soccer is another priority. They're both important."