Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is making a last-minute bid to persuade D.C. United to build its new stadium in Loudoun County, and the team’s ownership — despite having spent more than two years negotiating a deal for a D.C. stadium — appears to be listening.
In the past three weeks, team officials have toured sites in Loudoun County, lunched with a Loudoun supervisor in New York and hosted a meeting with Virginia economic development officials at the team’s offices at RFK Stadium.
Officials with the commonwealth and Loudoun County believe they can deliver a stadium more quickly and less expensively than the District, which late last year approved a package for a stadium in Southwest of up to $150 million in land and infrastructure plus an additional $43 million in forgone tax revenue.
The District’s deal, though passed by the D.C. Council with the support of Muriel E. Bowser before she left to become mayor, has not been completely finalized. Since coming into office in January, Bowser administration officials have been negotiating the details of a development contract with the team.
In late May, the D.C. Council quickly passed additional legislation giving the mayor leeway in adding protections for the District. The team did not protest, but there have been some disagreements behind the scenes.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were meant to be private, the team has chaffed at being asked to help foot possible cost overruns or provide protections in the event the District acquires the needed land but for some reason the team fails to build the stadium.
United managing partner Jason Levien, who oversees the stadium discussion for majority owner Erick Thohir, declined comment.
If discussions over the finer points of a D.C. United stadium created a sliver of an opening for Virginia to enter the discussion, McAuliffe attempted to drive a truck through it.
In 18 months as governor McAuliffe (D) has built a reputation for a willingness to pitch just about anyone on doing business in the commonwealth.
Much as they did for the Washington Redskins, which is also seeking a new stadium, McAuliffe’s economic development team, led by Secretary of Commerce Maurice Jones, pitched United on sites in Woodbridge and Loudoun County.
Buddy Rizer, Loudoun economic development director, and supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau met Levien for lunch in New York on May 15. A few days later, Rizer, Jones, Letourneau and Loudoun Chairman Scott K. York met with United leaders at the team’s offices at RFK stadium.
Team officials then agreed to tour sites in Loudoun County, including land near the planned Route 606 Metro station owned by West Dulles Properties. After the tour, Rizer e-mailed Loudoun and team officials on May 28 outlining a vision for a “viable and profitable deal” for a stadium that would be ready in time for the 2017 season.
“A Loudoun stadium, before any public involvement or incentives, is at least $38 million less expensive than a stadium in D.C. with incentives over a 30-year period,” Rizer wrote in the message, which was obtained by The Washington Post.
Rizer also wrote that a Loudoun stadium could be ready for the team’s 2017 season, something the team acknowledged in February wasn’t likely with its D.C. plan.
“The county offers a fast track process, which could waive your development fees, and get you to revenue generation faster than anyone in the region,” Rizer wrote. “Occupation during your 2017 season is an achievable goal in Loudoun.”
The governor’s office and Rizer declined to comment. Letourneau did not immediately return a request for comment.
That the team might blow up its arrangement with the District is surprising given United first came to terms on an arrangement with former mayor Vincent C. Gray two years ago and has been trying to get a new stadium in the city for a decade.
There has been no public discord between the mayor and the team, and it is possible D.C. United is using the discussion to gain leverage in the final negotiations over a Washington stadium.
Bowser spokesman Joaquin McPeek provided a statement Monday. “Large projects like this take time. Our respective legal teams are working out the final details to build the D.C. United stadium at Buzzard Point. D.C.’s infrastructure, dedicated fan base and proven ability to complete massive, complex projects truly make it the sports capital,” McPeek said.
A Northern Virginia site has advantages. Nearly half of the team’s fans live in Northern Virginia, versus about a quarter in D.C. And the West Dulles property is mostly un-built, while a stadium in D.C., at an estimated $286.7 million, would be the most expensive Major League Soccer stadium ever built. It likely requires the use of eminent domain to acquire land from a private developer, Akridge, and the construction of stands will likely need to take into consideration underground Pepco electrical lines. Environmental cleanup may be needed, and $4.5 million has been budgeted for a community benefits agreement to mitigate the effects of the stadium on surrounding residents.
Staff writers Steven Goff and Aaron C. Davis contributed.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz