At the corner of Second and S streets in Southwest Washington, across the street from Fort McNair and within view of Nationals Park‘s upper deck, heavy equipment ripped a hole into the side of an abandoned metal structure Monday morning.
Politicians, business executives and soccer fans cheered.
In two years, if all goes according to plan, the ceremonial demolition site at Buzzard Point will be the south end of D.C. United‘s new stadium, a venue the impatient club and its hearty supporters have waited years to become reality.
The city plans to transfer the land to United late this summer and the team is hopeful of breaking ground in the last quarter of 2016.
From the moment a shovel penetrates earth, the timetable to complete the project will take as little as 14 months. Realistically, construction will last 16-18 months. Regardless, the club plans to christen the facility sometime in the first half of 2018, ending a 22-year, love-hate relationship with oversized, under-maintained and just-plain-old RFK Stadium.
The city and team are sharing the cost of the $300 million project.
“Welcome to the future home of D.C. United!” Mayor Muriel E. Boswer proclaimed at a makeshift news conference in an unused surface parking lot. “We are here to mark their new chapter. We are one step closer.”
United officials say they will not play any matches at RFK beyond the 2017 season, meaning the club could end up starting the 2018 campaign with several away dates before debuting at Buzzard Point.
It’s not unusual for MLS teams to front-load their schedule with away games while a stadium project is being completed: Toronto FC is playing its first eight on the road this year while BMO Field’s renovations are completed.
The construction timetable will dictate the date of United’s first home appearance.
“We are moving forward expeditiously,” United managing general partner Jason Levien said. “We’re excited about being in the new stadium in ’18. Next year will be our last year at RFK, which will be an exciting year from a nostalgia standpoint for our fans and the community. But in ’18 we are going to get our new home, and we’re all systems go to do that.”
At the moment, Levien said United is focused on the design and the implementation of it. “We like what we’re seeing,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a terrific venue.”
Initial plans call for the stadium to accommodate 20,000 spectators: 19,400 seats, plus standing room for 600. There are also preliminary plans for a second phase of construction in the future to add up to 3,000 additional seats behind the goals and in some corners.
The narrow footprint of the property — between Second and First streets west to east and R and T streets south to north — leaves no room to expand on the sides.
A roof will cover the main stands on the east and west sides, but the north and south ends will remain uncovered. Team officials say this is being done, in part, because of the potential for seating expansion. [Stadium renderings]
Plans call for seven suites at field level on the west side and five in the northeast corner. The remaining 20 or so suites will line the upper east side.
United will open a stadium preview center, for the purpose of selling suites and other premium packages, near Union Market in Northeast Washington in two weeks. The center will be used for general ticket packages starting in 2017.
Meanwhile, the club is in preliminary talks with the D.C. government about the feasibility of building a training center on the grounds of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital in Anacostia. The city is already planning a practice facility for the NBA’s Wizards and a 5,000-seat arena for the WNBA’s Mystics in the Congress Heights neighborhood.
United trains on fields on the east side of the RFK campus but, with the new stadium on the way, it’s seeking a larger and more modern facility for both the senior team and academy program. Two weeks ago, club officials met with Brad Edwards, athletic director at George Mason University, which has available land on its Fairfax campus. Other parties have come forward from Virginia and Maryland.