After a year and a half of mostly behind-the-scenes negotiations over a planned 20,000-seat soccer stadium on Buzzard Point, District officials and executives from D.C. United and developer Akridge answered questions before the D.C. Council at a hearing last week.
More than 100 witnesses signed up to testify, stretching the hearing to nine hours. But a few salient points emerged, which are likely to shape the debate through the end of the year, by which time Mayor Vincent C. Gray is pressing to have it passed.
1. A majority of the council wants to help United get a new stadium.
D.C. United has been pleading for a new stadium for the better part of a decade, under multiple owners, but for the first time the club has a mayor and a council with a good budget situation and the disposition to help.
Of the 10 council members who attended the hearing at one time or another, most indicated a willingness to help financially with a stadium on Buzzard Point.
But the proposal calls for two land swaps and developments in three wards: the stadium, a redevelopment of the Reeves Center on U Street and a new municipal building in Ward 8. (Not to mention a new Pepco substation down the road.) As Council Chairman Phil Mendelson put it repeatedly: “This is about more than soccer.”
2. The Reeves Center is as big an issue as the stadium – and more controversial.
When City Administrator Allen Lew agreed to trade the Reeves Center to Akridge for Buzzard Point land and cash, it provided badly needed money for the deal.
But it also opened up another very large can of worms, as council members asked far more about the Reeves Center than the stadium. Late into the afternoon, D.C. Council member Jim Graham, whose ward includes Reeves Center, repeatedly and pointedly questioned Lew and Akridge President Matthew J. Klein about the site’s likely future as a luxury apartment building.
3. Closing the Reeves Center will not be easy.
Reeves is so energy inefficient and out-of-date that most any buyer would likely demolish it. Even Council member Marion Barry, who got it built, acknowledges the building’s time has passed.
But it’s not as easy as tossing Akridge the keys. The city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender center moved into rebuilt space there barely a year ago. The Post Office at Reeves, which Graham fought to save, has a long-term lease. And the D.C. Department of Transportation’s traffic center operations and other data facilities are also located in the building.
4. Little has been done to plan a Reeves Center replacement.
Lew’s plan is to build an office building in Anacostia to accommodate the Reeves facilities and deliver some economic development. Barry, who represents the neighborhood, generally supports the idea, but he said not a single meeting had been held in the community to explain the plans.
And because of the District’s borrowing cap, Lew is proposing to hire a developer to build the city a building there and then lease it back to the city.
5. There are other mine fields to navigate.
It’s an election year, and most everyone seems to want something, even if they aren’t running for anything. Graham, who lost his re-election bid, wants to bring office space to U Street. Barry would like more affordable housing there.
Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who will also leave the council at the end of the year after an unsuccessful run for mayor, said he won’t back the stadium without a plan to add more public transit access.
All three lawmakers might ultimately vote for a stadium package. But none is likely to do so without a fight.