A top District official reiterated Wednesday that the city is prepared to seize land in court to build a new soccer stadium after questions emerged over the ownership of a key plot needed for the project backed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C. United’s owners.
City Administrator Allen Y. Lew said the District was ready to exercise eminent domain should it be unable to come to terms with the current owners of the proposed site. “That’s always out there, that the mayor has the power to do that,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. “We’d like to work this out in an amicable way.”
Lew addressed the matter after WAMU (88.5 FM) reported Wednesday morning that the owners of Super Salvage, a scrap yard on the proposed soccer site, had not been approached about the deal. A company executive said in the report that the business was not inclined to move from its site, in the Buzzard Point area of Southwest Washington.
“Nobody from the press, nobody from the team and nobody from the D.C. government has been in touch with us,” Super Salvage’s chief financial officer, Bob Bullock, told the radio station.
But he later backed off those comments, and Mark D. Ein, who owns the adjoining parcel, said that he and Super Salvage owner Stephen Middelthon were operating in a partnership.
Ein, a businessman and venture capitalist, said that he continues to negotiate in good faith with the city and that he believes a deal is possible.
“I’ve been working with the city on both of our behalves, with Steve fully aware that I was doing it on both of our behalves,” he said. “We have an option agreement, and we don’t want to get into the details of it because it’s a private agreement. But it is an existing agreement about how we work together.”
A family member who answered the phone at Middelthon’s Maryland home said he was not available to comment.
Under its agreement with D.C. United, the city is supposed to come to terms with the landowners by Jan. 1, or the deal could be called off. The deadline could be extended by mutual consent, and Lew said Wednesday that the goal remained reasonable. “It’s an aggressive timeline, but I think we can hit it,” he said.
But using eminent domain would probably add considerable time and expense to the process. The long-delayed redevelopment of the Skyland shopping center in Southeast Washington has seen considerable progress only recently after spending $28 million and nearly seven years in court to assemble land at that 18.5-acre site.
The city has so far made the most progress in talks with Akridge, the developer that owns about a quarter of the nine-acre site, offering to swap the city-owned Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW for a Buzzard Point plot and a likely cash payment.
Lew said the city has been in “ongoing discussions” with Ein and Pepco, which owns about half the site, and plans to meet with Middelthon soon. “The strategy has been to amass the largest part of the site and then work through the rest of it,” he said.
Ein said Wednesday that he and Lew had not yet determined how the businessman would be compensated for the land in a way that would prevent the need for eminent domain.
He has worked closely with Gray (D) on building the city’s burgeoning technology industry, and since 2011, he has served at the mayor’s request as a member of the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, a volunteer board headed by former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) tasked with making recommendations on updating the city’s tax code.
Ein, who owns World Team Tennis’s Washington Kastles, attended the mayor’s news conference last month announcing the tentative stadium deal and said he was open to selling or trading his property, purchased in 2010, if the city wanted to put the stadium on it.
“I want to try to be a good citizen and be helpful. As long as there’s a way to do it that’s fair, I’m totally open to it,” he said at the time.
But having a soccer stadium on his property wasn’t Ein’s initial plan. He bought 1714 Second St. SW and has leased it for 10 years to the operator of the Capital Bikeshare system for a storage facility.
Ein said he figured he could develop the land later: “I love that part of town and believe in it and have believed in it for a long time.”