D.C. United managing partner Jason Levien was tempted to bring his trusty machete to Thursday’s news conference unveiling plans for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. He ended up leaving it behind. The blade, gifted by fans last year, has symbolized the bushwhacking Levien anticipated in clearing the tangle of politics to secure a new home for his MLS club.
A wise man probably would not pack it away just yet.
Although United is further along in the decade-long pursuit than ever before, formidable obstacles remain — the city council’s blessing, land acquisition and other issues.
The term sheet calls for the city to secure the land in Southwest by Dec. 31.
Five council members, including Marion Barry, attended Mayor Vincent C. Gray‘s news conference, staged inside an air-conditioned tent erected in a parking lot where a portion of the stadium would stand. United’s facility would sit about four blocks from Nationals Park.
Levien is cognizant of the challenges ahead but upbeat about completing a deal that would allow United to leave antiquated RFK Stadium as early as the 2016 season.
“My level of confidence is high – high because of the trust developed between our group, the mayor, [city administrator] Allen Lew and the city council members who we have met with and who have real support for us,” Levien said. The project “makes a lot of sense. It’s a win-win-win.”
Levien estimated the stadium, which would hold at least 20,000 spectators, would take between 18 and 22 months to complete. United has pledged to pay for construction costs, estimated at $150 million. The city would spend about the same on infrastructure and land acquisition through a complex series of property exchanges with private owners.
The facility would host more than just the 20-25 United games each year. The team and city envision concerts, college football, soccer and lacrosse games, high school football, and international soccer matches.
Washington would become a prime candidate to stage the College Cup (the NCAA men’s and women’s soccer final fours). It would also make a strong case for U.S. national team games that otherwise would not end up in the area because RFK Stadium and FedEx Field are too large.
What’s next in the political process?
Levien said he will soon meet with city council members and push to bring legislation before the council probably sometime after Labor Day. “We want to get everyone on-board, answer questions, to start moving forward,” he said.
Levien said he has been visiting stadiums, here and abroad, to gather ideas about the design for United’s venue.
“What I can tell [club supporters] is that we want to preserve the history and excitement that RFK has — like the bouncing stands — the best we can and what makes us unique and has given us a tradition. We want to take the best of what we’ve had and take it into the 21st century.”
United is planning to assemble a focus group of fans to “bounce some ideas off,” Levien added (no pun intended). “Because this is for our fans. We want them to love the stadium and to feel like partners in this.”
Before specific design ideas are finalized, however, United will need to nail down the agreement.
Although Gray declared at Thursday’s event that “D.C. United will be staying here in the nation’s capital,” other parties will have a say in that.
Pepco, the power company, is a prominent land owner where the team wants to build. It doesn’t hurt United’s cause that Pepco’s president has soccer in his blood. Thomas Graham was a goalkeeper at St. John’s High School in the District and starred at the University of Tampa in the early 1980s before turning pro. He was Georgetown University’s keepers coach from 1986 to 2005.
Graham, who joined Gray, Levien, Lew and others on stage at the news conference, declined to discuss negotiations with the city about a land swap.
He did say, though, that “to the extent we can support this, from an economic perspective, we are there. We’re talking about a lot of things — we have significant infrastructure across the street [from the proposed stadium site] — but we are supportive of the economic development efforts of the city.”
Graham also reminisced about soccer.
The stadium plan is “very exciting,” he said, smiling. “It makes me think back to when I first started playing soccer and going to the [NASL] games at RFK Stadium. I will always remember the Washington Diplomats and the games against the New York Cosmos, seeing Johan Cruyff and Pele. The type of energy it created for the team was so important. A facility like this is great. I look forward to that type of energy” in a new stadium.
For the political angle, please read colleague Mike DeBonis’s story.