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D.C. United Scores New Stadium After Council Gives Final Approval To Deal

A rendering of the proposed D.C. United stadium in Southwest D.C.
D.C. United
A rendering of the proposed D.C. United stadium in Southwest D.C.

The D.C. Council today gave final approval to a $300 million deal for a new D.C. United stadium in Southwest D.C., scoring the team a new home after 20 years of playing at RFK Stadium and a decade of planning and pleading for a new stadium.

Much like during an initial vote earlier this month, the deal — under which the city and the team will split the cost of the 20,000-seat stadium — passed the Council with little debate and few objections from legislators. The vote was unanimous.

"It's a great day for the District of Columbia," said Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a steadfast supporter of using public funds to build stadia for professional teams in the city.

The approval of the deal marks a victory for Mayor Vincent Gray, who has two weeks left in his term and negotiated the initial terms with the team. In a letter to the Council, he said the stadium could help transform an area that is largely industrial.

"The stadium project will demonstrate the transformative impact that government investment can continue to have on the District's neighborhoods," he wrote. "Buzzard Point is an underutilized industrial area that has long been targeted for redevelopment, but without a catalytic, public-sponsored project, like the D.C. United stadium, it is not likely to see significant development for many years."

Under the terms of the deal, D.C. will put $150 million towards land and infrastructure, while the team will pay $150 million to build the actual stadium. A supplemental budget submitted by Gray and approved by the Council authorizes the borrowing of $106 million and redirecting of $32 million in existing capital funds to help cover the city's portion of the land.

The loudest objections came from Council member David Catania (I-At Large), who also opposed the use of public funds to build Nationals Park. He said that the new financing plan — notably the borrowing necessary to help cover the city's portion of the deal — would draw funds away from a number of other important projects and push the city closer to its debt cap.

"Just so we're clear, $95 million over the next five years has to cover the following: two new middle schools, all the development associated with Reservation 13, Walter Reed, half of St. Elizabeths, and Metro. We have precious few capital dollars left," he said. "Just to be clear: We are putting ourselves in a very tight place."

Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser called Catania's claims "disingenuous," and said that the city could reap the economic benefits of redeveloping the Reeves Center, the government at 14th and U Streets NW that Gray had originally planned to trade away for a large parcel of land in the stadium footprint. Bowser removed the Reeves Center from the deal.

And though the deal approved by the Council caps the city's contribution to $150 million, Council Chair Phil Mendelson conceded that the total cost to taxpayers could rise to $230 million when tax abatements and possible land cost increases due to eminent domain proceedings are included in the final tab. The overall cost of Nationals Park ballooned from $611 million to $739 million due to unexpected costs.

Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) also raised concerns with the use of $3 million from charter schools for the stadium deal, though Mendelson said that money would be paid back to the charter school system.

Despite those concerns, the bill passed without objection, as did a supplemental budget that will finance the city's contribution. The vote drew cheers from D.C. United fans and team leadership.

"We're thrilled with the outcome today. There have been a lot of hills and valleys over the last 29 months," said Jason Levien, the team's managing partner. "But you stick with it."

Levien also said that the stadium would serve to spur development in Buzzard Point. "This is going be a positive outcome in terms of economic development in the city," he said. The stadium is expected to open in 2017.

"I'm ecstatic," said Donald Wine, 32, who lives in Ward 2 and is a member of the Screaming Eagles, a group of United supporters. He said he attended every hearing and session on the stadium, spare one that occurred during the World Cup.

"This is a long time coming, and I couldn't be happier," he said.

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