There is little doubt that Washington-area sports fans have fallen for soccer. Sunday’s World Cup match between the U.S. and Portugal received a 13.3 overnight television rating in Washington, the highest by far of any place in the country.
Will that enthusiasm carry over to D.C. United as the team pushes for approval of a new stadium?
While soccer drama continues on the field in Brazil, it is about to begin in the D.C. Council’s John A. Wilson Building, where the council will hold its first hearing Thursday to consider a complex legislative package put together for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) by City Administrator Allen Lew.
The bill would allow for the District to provide the needed land and infrastructure for construction of a Major League Soccer stadium on Buzzard Point, the sale of the Reeves Center on U Street and the possible construction of a new District office building in Anacostia.
In advance of the hearing, Lew and executives from United and developer Akridge have been making an economic case for the bill, knocking on the doors of members of the council and pitching the idea to business and professional groups.
They come armed with projections from Lew saying the three developments combined could create $2.3 billion of economic activity in the city over 30 years as well as 715 permanent full-time or full-time equivalent jobs and another 1,756 construction jobs. D.C. has agreed to pay up to $150 million for the 20,000-seat stadium as well as provide $40 million in tax breaks to the team.
Lew has been circulating an explainer (a version of which you can read here) of how the deal works and the benefits he expects it to create for the District.
Lew agreed to trade the Reeves Center to Akridge and property near Mount Vernon Square to Pepco for land the companies own on Buzzard Point, and he lays out the values he has agreed to pay and receive for all of them. (FAR stands for Floor Area Ratio, which is a measure of building density.)
One the proposal’s sticking points remains the future of the Reeves building. Typically when the District decides to sell or develop large public properties, such as CityCenterDC or the Southwest Waterfront, there is a lengthy process for public input. Developers generally compete based in part on their vision for the properties, not just the price they would be willing to pay. Civic associations and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are given a chance to weigh in.
If the District, independently of the soccer stadium, decided to sell or redevelop the Reeves Center, it might prompt months of community meetings and a lengthy bidding process.
Akridge is hoping to acquire Reeves without any other developers having a shot at the property. In return, the District would get the cash and land it needs to complete the other transactions without having to find the money in its budget or take on more debt, which could violate a cap on city borrowing.
Matthew J. Klein, president of Akridge, said some council members had asked about the price of the Reeves and how Akridge would re-use it, but that they were beginning to get more comfortable.
“I think people wanted to understand how all the pieces fit together. I think once we talk them through the valuation, they get more comfortable with it,” Klein said.
The roadshow has begun to produce some support. Both the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade have lent their support, with Harry Wingo, the chamber‘s president and chief executive, issuing a statement saying the deal “promises the kind of broad-based, far-reaching economic development – and jobs – that the chamber has always championed.”
Lew and company also stopped in to see Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, one of the primary skeptics of the deal to this point. Lazere said he made a number of suggestions including that the District competitively bid the Reeves Center.
“The only way to know what it’s worth is to put it on the market,”Lazere said.
Regardless of the support the team has built behind the scenes, United is pushing to have a vocal and visible presence at the Wilson building Thursday, one that will include head coach (and D.C. resident) Ben Olsen. The team e-mailed supporters this week that it would provide food throughout the day from Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Although the hearing will overlap with the next U.S. national team game, Gray is making a room in the Wilson building available for fans who would like to come for the hearing but also watch the game.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz