Top District officials said Thursday that they had reached a deal to provide $139 million in city funding toward a new stadium for the D.C. United soccer franchise.
The D.C. Council granted initial approval last week for the stadium deal, authorizing up to $150 million in public spending. But Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) had clashed sharply over how to come up with the necessary funds.
On Thursday, Mendelson acknowledged a “little bit of a dust-up” with Gray but said at a joint news conference that the two had come to terms.
“The important thing is that we need to focus on soccer,” he said. “That’s what the issue is. And while there may be other projects that are important . . . we don’t need to complicate the situation.”
Gray had refused to send budget legislation — the sole prerogative of the mayor under city law — citing fears that the council would make other changes to city spending not related to the soccer deal. Instead, he proposed transferring money from other capital projects to pay for stadium costs in the current fiscal year.
Mendelson instead resurrected a budget bill Gray had transmitted over the summer, one that had not proceeded through the council and that Gray had attempted to withdraw.
On Dec. 2, the council passed that bill, which not only included the soccer stadium funding but also accelerated nearly $100 million in spending to replace the H Street NE bridge, north of Union Station.
That budget maneuver, however, was questioned afterward by city lawyers and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt, leaving soccer stadium funding an open question going into the council’s final legislative session next week.
Gray said he had extracted a commitment from Mendelson not to amend the budget bill he plans to send to the council.
Mendelson acknowledged agreeing to hold off on the H Street bridge funding — a necessary precursor to an ambitious redevelopment of Union Station, he said — to fund the soccer deal. “The funding will be focused solely on the soccer stadium,” he said.
Two other council members — Muriel E. Bowser (D-Ward 4), the mayor-elect, and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) — also pledged not to pursue amendments.
“No mischief,” Evans said. “We’re going to get this done.”
Under the deal, the city is committing to spend up to $150 million to purchase and prepare the land for the stadium; D.C. United will spend about as much to build the structure.
While the broad outlines are unlikely to change before a final vote is taken next week, there are some uncertainties surrounding the deal. For one, the city has yet to come to terms with a key landowner — the Akridge real-estate firm — that has balked at the collapse of a proposal to trade the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center site for its stadium parcel.
The $139 million budget would pay Akridge the price it had negotiated for the land before the Reeves trade fell apart. Akridge now says that price could go up considerably, and the city has threatened to pursue an eminent domain case if the company refuses to come to terms.
Mark H. Tuohey, a lawyer who is negotiating with Akridge on the city’s behalf, said talks are ongoing and may extend into the new year. City Administrator Allen Y. Lew said that even if the land price goes up, he expects it to fall within the $150 million cap.
Meanwhile, a major union representing hospitality workers in the Washington region is pushing the team and the council to maintain labor protections in the deal. Unite Here Local 25 sent mailers to District households this week, urging residents to tell D.C. United to “agree to a process to create middle class jobs.”
“Don’t let D.C. United kick working people around,” the mailer says over a picture of a soccer ball.
The union has pushed for the inclusion of a “labor peace” measure in the soccer legislation that would ensure the ability of stadium workers and employees of a potential hotel on the site to organize. Such language was included in the bill that passed Dec. 2 but remains subject to change.