Supporters of a new stadium for D.C. United are making it difficult to like the current deal on the table to bring a 20,000-seat facility to Southwest Washington. Not only are the alleged financial benefits for the city questionable in some instances, according to a recent city report, the team’s community relations has been tone-deaf. And the people most likely directly affected by the development, the residents near Buzzard Point, where the stadium might be located, have been nothing more than an afterthought.
When Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) first proposed this deal, the Major League Soccer franchise touted its community ties as an assurance that they would be sensitive to the concerns of neighbors at the proposed site. City officials even joined in on this chorus.
“The new soccer stadium will be the connector between developing areas around our baseball stadium and the new Wharf development along our Southwest Waterfront,” Gray said when he announced his plan.
But recently when the team had a chance to address specific community needs, the team’s leaders balked. For instance, when local activists asked for a $500,000 work force training fund targeted to residents in the proposed stadium’s surrounding neighborhood, City Administrator Allen Y Lew and D.C. United chief operating officer Tom Hunt wrote in a letter that “it does not make sense to create a separate and standalone employment program for ANC 6D residents. The District is, however, committed to working…to ensure that ANC 6D job-seekers are successful in accessing these existing programs,” according to The Post’s Jonathan O’Connell.
In other words: get in line with everyone else, even if your neighborhood is the most impacted. Not exactly good community outreach.
Meanwhile, in response to a request for a $750,000 small business incubator fund, Lew and Hunt wrote that “it does not make sense to develop a separate standalone program” from the city’s current small business programs,” O’ Connell reported.
Even some fans, who have been vocal in their desire to see a stadium built, seem to understand that something just isn’t right. Paul Sotoudeh, 41, who grew up in Rockville, but now lives in D.C., said he couldn’t help but recall his knowledge of the 1950s, when city planners and Congress razed much of the quadrant after declaring eminent domain for the purposes of redevelopment. Many families were never able to return to the neighborhood.
“The history is shameful and I think that I understand why residents, especially long-term residents of that particular part of town, would be wary,” said Sotoudeh, who’s been following the team hardcore since its inception. “I think that’s a discussion that our community has to have as a whole and our elected leaders have to have as a whole. I would not want to leave, or expect that discussion to fall on the back of the soccer team.”
So, let’s have that discussion: A team with a wealthy owner is asking the city to help subsidize a stadium, partially by receiving all sorts of tax breaks, that includes a deal that would raze a symbol of the District’s resurgence, The Reeves Center, in an elaborate land swap. Even some local politicians who approve of the stadium deal are concerned about that.
But when the people on the ground in Southwest asked for some direct financial help, the team only offered modest concessions, ones that didn’t address the stadium’s potential neighborhood. I’m a lifelong fan of the team, but this is not a good deal for the city.
“I don’t want to sound real negative, all I’m trying to do is say, this is what we’re getting in to. So, we need to know what is we’re doing,” John Ross, director of economic development finance, office of the chief financial officer, said Wednesday at a D.C. Council roundtable discuss for a 406-page report about the deal, done by CSL International, Integra Realty Resources and the Robert Bobb Group, the consulting firm of former D.C. city manager Robert C. Bobb.
Throughout this process the team and city officials have been touting how much money the city would make from this deal potentially. More storefront means more places to feed people. In an e-mail, Hunt said over the next 32 years, the Stadium Project will generate $2.6 billion in economic activity, among other benefits. Of course, restaurant owners love the idea.
“When the Nats, Caps and Wizards find a home inside D.C., restaurants follow. And when restaurants show up, residential and other retail development grows and neighborhoods are created,” Geoff Tracy, owner of Chef Geoff’s and chairman of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington said Thursday. “D.C. United should stay in D.C.”
Ideally, yes. But right now, there are too many questions for any resident to support this deal in good faith. Another entertainment venue would be great, but I can’t help but think of the residents of the Arthur Capper housing projects, whose home were cleared to make way for a new development near Nationals Park. While the DC United Stadium deal doesn’t call for any homes to be taken by eminent domain, what will development that may follow the stadium do to the neighborhood?
When I first started rooting for the Black and Red in 1996, I knew they’d sometimes let me down as a squad. I never thought they’d disappoint me down as a resident, too.