A briefing for the D.C. Council on the tentative deal to build a soccer stadium near Nationals Park quickly produced a laundry list of questions Tuesday about the project’s costs and timeline.
Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and David Catania (I-At large) dominated the discussion saying they were skeptical the city had done enough research and could verify the best deal for taxpayers.
Council chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At large) also said he worried the deal could not be vetted and voted on before an apparent January deadline for the council to act.
“Several pieces are fairly complicated and the term sheet says the council would act by Jan. 1,” Mendelson said.
City Administrator Allen Y. Lew, who is orchestrating the deal, sought to play down Mendelson’s concerns about timing.
“Mr. Chairman, I don’t think the world ends if it turns out that it takes longer.”
The $300 million deal would bring a 20,000-seat stadium for D.C. United to Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington. Plotted between Half and Second streets SW just south of Potomac Avenue, the stadium would be few blocks southwest of Nationals Park.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and other proponents say the deal would end a decade-long search by the Major League Soccer franchise for a new venue that would allow it to leave RFK Stadium, where investors say the team loses money every year.
The plan hinges on a series of proposed land swaps and development projects across the city that could lead to political and logistical land mines.
Graham asked if the city had thoroughly studied whether it could revamp RFK instead.
“Have we done an analysis, I mean, a real analysis of what it would take to make RFK” a suitable stadium? Graham asked.
Gray responded saying RFK would have to be downsized significantly, and could cost as much or more than building a new stadium.
Graham countered that the city should complete such an analysis before proceeding. “It would seem prudent,” he said.
Catania, meanwhile, zeroed in on a tax abatement program for the team.
D.C. United would be granted a 25- to 35-year lease for the land and would have the opportunity to develop restaurants, shops and possibly a hotel along Half Street SW. A sales and use tax abatement worth as much as $2.6 million in its first year is also a part of the tentative deal.
“It’s very important that we have specificity for this provision,” Catania said, referencing the way the cost of Nationals’ Park escalated for city taxpayers.
“I’ve been to this rodeo before, I’m not going to be suckered again,” he said.
Graham also questioned the effect of losing the marquee land swap.
The Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center, at 14th and U streets NW, would go to D.C.-based developer Akridge in exchange for about two acres of Buzzard Point, nearly a quarter of the land needed for the stadium. Lew said the city would build a new Reeves building in Anacostia to promote development there.
“I know what we are gaining by moving the Reeves Center to Anacostia, but what are we losing” by giving the land on 14th to a private developer, he said.
“There is no shortage of apartments on 14th St.,” Graham said. “We have more than a sufficient number of rentals, condominiums, and co-ops on 14th St. So, I – at one point it kind of made sense to turn the Reeves Center over to private development. Now, I’m less convinced.”
Lew said Graham shouldn’t be worried. “You won’t regret it. This is going to be something great for that part of the city,” he said.
Several council members have indicated support for the deal, including Democratic mayoral candidates Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (Ward 6).
Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.