D.C. United got itself a new group of investors yesterday, a $26 million deal that will shift the club's operating rights from billionaire Phil Anschutz to locally based Global Sports and Entertainment. In the process, United hopes the long-awaited sale will accelerate plans for a proposed medium-sized soccer stadium at Poplar Point in Anacostia.
The new group is led by Kevin Payne, United's president and chief executive offer, who will maintain control of the club's front office. Willi Lauterbach, a German-born real estate investor who lives in Northern Virginia, and Tim Kissler, a former executive with prominent Washington developer John Akridge Co., were introduced as part of the investment group.
No other members were identified during the news conference at the National Press Club, but local real estate attorney Kenneth Lore is also involved.
Anschutz Entertainment Group, which has operated United since early 2001, will continue to oversee the club until details are finalized, probably early next year.
"This is a very exciting day for us," Payne said. "We're proud of what we've accomplished as an organization. The great thing about this transition is that very little will change in the way we do things. AEG allowed us to do things the way we thought fit and we will continue to move forward."
The selling point for Lauterbach and Kissler was the possibility of the club operating its own stadium as part of a mixed-use development using public and private land at Poplar Point, which is located just south of the Frederick Douglass Bridge.
The Poplar Point property is in the process of being transferred by the federal government to the city. Most of the financing for the project would come from private sources, officials said, but details have not been made public.
Although D.C. Council member Marion Barry, who represents the area where the proposed stadium would be built, recently stated his opposition to the soccer project, United and D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission officials expressed optimism.
"Having local people helps move it along," commission chairman Mark Tuohey said, adding that he expects to make an announcement about the soccer project soon. "They are developers and they know how to develop property, and they have a great interest in working with us. I think it will help assure that this happens no later than 2008."
Lauterbach and Kissler are also pursuing a stadium development project for the Richmond Braves, a minor league baseball team, and have submitted a plan to develop the Washington Nationals' proposed stadium.
Kissler, 44, is a Woodbridge High School and Virginia Tech graduate who departed the Akridge Co. early this year. Lauterbach, who left Germany as a teenager to attend the University of Louisville, has been involved in real estate projects around the world. Lauterbach, who will turn 60 this year, is believed to own land around the Poplar Point site.
"Soccer is at a point where it's going to show itself as a real sport in this country," he said. "I think it's been proven that all these teams have to have new stadiums at the end of the day. With this team, or pretty much any team, minor or major league, [it] needs to have the ability to garner the revenue that it takes to support itself. That's particularly true in the case of soccer."
Asked if he thought the stadium plan would go forward, he said: "Yes. As soon as we can make it happen."
Although AEG is selling United's operating rights, the company would remain involved in promoting events scheduled for the proposed stadium.
Phil Anschutz "was really not happy with this decision," said AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke, whose company operates four other MLS teams. "He would prefer to hold onto this franchise. We just happened to find really good partners. . . . If not for the depth, and in particular the commitment, that this group has made toward a soccer-specific stadium, we would not sell this franchise."