If you take a trip down to Buzzard Point in Southwest, you’d think the deal was already done. Long, black and red banners line the fences where the future site of D.C. United’s new stadium will be: “Win Championships.” “Serve the community.” “Vamos United.”
Wednesday was the first day that the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole heard from the public on the stadium plan, which would run the city approximately $120 million for the 20,000 seat facility. But it was plain to see that this project is way too convoluted for its own good.
Even the hearing was a picture of confusion. Presumably due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, it was scheduled on the same day as a U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup game, leading to an oddball scene in which elected officials and residents both left the meeting to watch games, while trying to discuss the future of a place where they’d watch the same sport. Country before club, I guess.
More disturbing was seeing how many lame duck members of the Wilson Building seemingly have such an important hand in what’s going to happen with this project. At least three of the members present Thursday might not be there by the time the next council is sworn in.
It’s not like their input doesn’t matter, but with so many seats set to change hands, it feels hasty to rush to iron something out. There are too many questions, too many intangibles and too much at stake to treat it like just another development project: There are land swaps paired with cash deals and long term tax abatements at stake- including a plan that could lead to the demolition of the Reeves Center, at 14th and U Streets. The office building sits on a popular corner and if you’re going to put that property up for grabs, it’s worth doing it right.
The council is torn on what to do. Jim Graham doesn’t think the Reeves Center should be involved in the process at all. Tommy Wells doesn’t like the transportation options. Jack Evans wants another stadium, but respects that it’s complicated. Council members Mary Cheh (D- Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (D- Ward 4) like the idea, but want some more outside input. Everyone is all over the place.
The goal, beyond installing a new facility for the team is to foster some level of improvement in a particularly forgotten part of Southwest. But to hear some tell it, you’d think it was on another planet. “This is about more than just keeping our soccer team here which by itself would be enough, but it’s about taking an area of the city, which is really blighted. It looks pretty bad down there,” Mayor Vincent Gray said at halftime of the USA-Germany game, which was serving as a de facto day care during the hearing. “You go through there and you don’t even think you’re in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
At this point, some people might say that anonymity is the best part about it.
Meanwhile, people can’t even decide on calling it “Buzzard” or “Buzzard’s” Point. (It’s Buzzard).
“As a matter of fact I hope we change the doggone name. Buzzards Point is a terrible name, isn’t it? I don’t know who came up with that name,” Gray said at halftime. “but man, I wouldn’t want to tell somebody I was living in Buzzard’s Point.”
And that’s affecting Southwest residents negatively.
One person who does live there is Gwendolyn Timmonds. A homemaker who’s been in D.C. for more than two decades, her nerves when talking about the subject of the stadium are apparent.
“To me, they’re just pushing em out. Pushing our black people out. I heard within two years. That they were going to demolish this and prepare for a soccer field,” she said, smoking a cigarette in her house shoes just after dawn at the Syphax Gardens complex. ” I don’t understand just … where are these people going to go? I mean there’s other places, but, can we get a break, right now in this area? … It’s just, they’re tearing down to build up. A soccer field. Why don’t the put that somewhere else. Tear up something else,” Timmonds added with an almost defeatist laugh.
It’s important because potential displacement isn’t just about a pity party for those who feel the squeeze. Something that Thelma D. Jones, Board of Directors, Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, Inc. pointed out. “In SW, we’re not saying, we don’t favor, or we’re not in support of development, growth,” she said after her testimony in front of the committee. At a point, these things become inevitable. “In Southwest, we have had one of the country’s worst urban renewal plans. Our residents are still reeling from that. And there is a high level of anxiety now because they sort of feel like that stadium is going to come regardless. All of the residents in public housing basically feel “okay, it’s just a matter of time.”
And that’s when confusion over parking plans and other development squabbles finally bubble up on the radar of the people who’ll only likely visit once a week. “These little kids here, their parents say, ‘you know, they done took it from us once. Now, they’re going to come and take it from us again.’ So, in their mind, little Tyrone’s mind, it’s ‘okay, they took it from us, so I’ll rob the lady that’s walking past here, whether she’ll live in Southwest 20 or 30 years or not.’ I’m not saying that it’s correct, but I don’t think that people are understanding that,” Jones said.
The residents of Southwest deserve a little more than a cavalier attitude towards their community. Sure, it’s annoying to deal with decrepit RFK to watch a match, but that’s not nearly on the level of worrying if you won’t have an actual place to live in a couple years.
“It’s not just plates going around a soccer ball,” Andy Litsky Vice Chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D said, referring to the two graphics the city released to differentiate the off-site costs and on-site contributions required to build the stadium. “How’s this sucker going to operate? I haven’t gotten any answers and you haven’t either,” he said to Chairman Phil Mendelson.
Thursday morning, before all this footy-related activity took over city hall, Buzzard Point Marina was quiet. Things are sleepy by the time the sun comes up. The bugs are awake and biting. It’s the quietest place I’ve been in a long time save the security buzzer from the parking lot next door at the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, a building every bit as boxy and boring as you’d expect. It goes off nearly every 20 seconds.
Headed back toward the Waterfront Metro station, at the northwest corner First and P Streets SW, a subtle, though, unintentional protest lie touching a curb, with leaves scattered from the previous night’s storm.
A football. An American one.