It’s been two months since the D.C. Council gave final approval for construction of a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, and while no one expected shovels to crack the frozen ground right away, the wave of public activity leading to the announcement has receded. Quietly, city and team officials have been busy behind the scenes securing land and planning for the project in Southwest D.C.
United officials do not want to go into great detail, but from conversations with several individuals familiar with the plans, here is what we know:
● United would love to open the stadium at the start of the 2017 MLS campaign. However, given political and construction factors, the reality is it will happen sometime that season. The preliminary construction timetable is 14 to 16 months. To open in March 2017, the project would need to begin by the end of this calendar year. Any substantial delays, in land preparation or construction, would result in MLS front-loading United’s 2017 season with away matches or perhaps scheduling some home games at RFK Stadium. The club would like to get into the new digs as soon as possible, in part to begin maximizing revenue streams created by a new venue.
● The club will not lock into a specific seating capacity for quite some time. The working figure has been 20,000+. It could, however, end up being as high as 22,000. United has also discussed a second phase of construction in the distant future that would add another 6,000 to 8,000 seats, bringing the total to somewhere between 26,000 and 30,000. First things first, though: United just wants to begin playing in a new venue of any size. Talk of additional seating is very much secondary to finishing the initial project.
● The city is continuing the process of acquiring property to the sum of $89 million, as authorized by the Council’s funding bill. (The city has also committed $46 million to clear the stadium site and prepare infrastructure.) Also, an environmental study has entered the second phase.
● United is interviewing individuals and firms to manage the stadium project. That person or group would, in turn, begin receiving presentations from prospective stadium architects.
● The playing surface is going to be at street level, not below. Hence, a taller structure. It does, for whatever reason, cost more to build up than down. For comparison purposes, the fields at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and Toyota Park outside Chicago are at ground level, while the L.A. Galaxy’s StubHub Center and Toyota Stadium near Dallas are below.
Why not a submerged field and lower bowl here in Washington? Pepco, the power company, has permanent underground lines running beneath land where a portion of the stands will rise.
“We have existing underground lines that the design of the stadium are taking into consideration,” Pepco spokeswoman Courtney Nogas said. “We can’t speak to the elevation of the playing field, but we have been coordinating with D.C. United to develop a solution that would minimize impacts to our existing underground lines while accommodate the construction and operation of the stadium.”
Those lines are separate from Pepco’s project to build a new substation near the stadium site. The targeted completion is June 2017. Pepco is relinquishing land through a swap with the city to accommodate a portion of the stadium footprint.
● United will not train at the stadium site; no room for practice fields. It is searching throughout the metropolitan area, including D.C., to establish long-term training grounds.