D.C. United, Mayor propose $300 million downtown stadium deal

D.C. United fans are elated at news that the club plans to build a stadium in downtown Washington D.C. Photo: Proposed D.C. United Stadium, D.C. United

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2013 — D.C. United announced on Thursday that the team will build a stadium in the Buzzard Point area of Southwest downtown Washington. The plan is to build a 20,000-25,000-seat, soccer stadium through a public-private partnership with the city.

The club will spend $150 million on the stadium, while the city will pony up another $150 million on land acquisition and infrastructure. The city will provide the land, which is located a couple of blocks from baseball’s Nationals Park, through a complicated land swap. The stadium is to be completed for the 2016 season.

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“D.C. United will be staying, right here, in our nation’s capital,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

This is sweet news to United’s fans who over the years have had to watch almost all of the other 18 clubs in Major League Soccer build soccer-specific stadiums or renovate venues. United has played its games since 1996 at the 60-plus year old RFK Stadium, once the home of the Washington Redskins and the Nationals. RFK has served well, but the club loses money on the lease deal with the city.

Of course, United fans have been through this scenario twice before. There were lavish press conferences and proposals to build stadiums, first in Popular Point in the District, and then later in Prince George’s County. Both ideas fell through. Then there was even talk of moving the team to Baltimore.

This latest project might just work.

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However, those who live in the District know that bringing this to reality will be like walking through a political minefield. There is a mayoral election coming up and there will be many critics demanding city infrastructure money go elsewhere.

That said, United has always had a good relationship with the city through its many charities. Former president of the club Kevin Payne always said that the club was there to serve the city. A new stadium would bring life to an underdeveloped part of the D.C. waterfront and create jobs, and unlike baseball’s Nationals Park, it would be built with private money.

Some critics will note that United has has only been drawing 13,000 fans in recent games, but there is a huge soccer market in the area and a new stadium would stimulate interest. The evidence can been seen with teams like Sporting Kansas City that built a state of the art venue and sells out regularly. Downtown stadiums in the league in places like Portland, Seattle, Toronto, and Houston are all doing well in drawing crowds.

United co-owner Erick Thohir is a man with very deep pockets. The Indonesian businessman is reported to be making a bid to buy a majority share in Italian giant, AC Milan, for $463 million. With a soccer stadium in D.C., Thohir is not only investing in his sports passion, but buys influence and political protection just as Russian Roman Abramovich did when he bought English club Chelsea.

The new stadium, to be located adjacent to the Fort McNair Army base, will be bounded by Half Street and Second Street SW, between R and T Streets and fans would have to walk three-quarters of mile from the nearest Metro stop.

“We are proud to say that D.C. United has achieved a major milestone towards establishing a permanent, state-of-the-art home in Washington, D.C.,” said United managing partner Jason Levien. “This is a significant step forward, and we are going to continue to work diligently and collaboratively with the Mayor’s office and the D.C. Council to expedite this process and make this stadium a reality.”

Reality is what United fans want to see.

John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times for 20 years. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.

Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon or email jhaydon@washingtontimes.com

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John Haydon

John Haydon has covered soccer for The Washington Times for two decades. He has reported on international soccer events in Germany, South Korea and Spain. John hails from Birmingham, England and has lived in the Washington D.C. region for over twenty years.  

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