Wednesday, January 23, 2008

10/17/07: The Washington Post - Md. Comes Courting in D.C. United's Stadium Search

State Comptroller Meets With Team Executives After Their Talks With Fenty Stall

Comptroller Peter Franchot has asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to meet with United officials.

Comptroller Peter Franchot has asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to meet with United officials. (Kevin Clark - Twp)

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 17, 2007; Page B01

A leading Maryland official began a public push yesterday to lure D.C. United, calling on the state to find a site for a new soccer stadium. The announcement prompted District government leaders to say they will fight to keep the team in the city.

In a letter to Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Frederick W. Puddester, Comptroller Peter Franchot said United's negotiations with D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to build a 27,000-seat stadium in the city have stalled.

"I would strongly urge the Maryland Stadium Authority to meet with representatives from the United to learn more about its proposal and explore potential opportunities to bring this great franchise to the State of Maryland," Franchot wrote.

He said a stadium "would attract fans and tourists from throughout the region. . . . The enormous tax revenues generated on game nights alone would provide an enormous benefit."

The letter comes less than a week after United principal partner Victor B. MacFarlane said he has hired consultants to examine potential stadium sites in Maryland and Virginia. Franchot met with MacFarlane and United President Kevin Payne yesterday afternoon to reiterate his interest.

But several D.C. Council members, including Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), also met with United officials yesterday and pledged to work with the franchise to find a new home in the District.

"That puts us all on notice that they are seriously looking," Gray said of Franchot's letter. "We had to know that was going to happen with the situation they are in."

United officials had been informally negotiating for months with the Fenty administration to build a stadium and mixed-use development at Poplar Point, a 110-acre strip of parkland along the Anacostia River. But the mayor broke off talks during the summer and opened a competitive bidding process to solicit other proposals for the site.

MacFarlane, who bought the team with a partner in January, said last week that it is increasingly unlikely that he will be able to enter the competition because United cannot meet the economic parameters set by the city.

Julie Chase, MacFarlane's spokeswoman, played down the impact of Franchot's letter.

"We're happy to have the support," she said. "But we're a ways down the road" from a plan to move.

Still, Franchot's interest privately rekindled talk among some Maryland officials of United's interest four years ago in two locations in College Park.

Puddester, who has been in his post at the Maryland Stadium Authority for 2 1/2 months, said yesterday that he has not spoken with United since the spring. But Puddester said he has been in touch with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, which he said has talked more recently with the team.

Fenty administration officials said they remain open to working with United to find a suitable new home in the city. The team plays at 46-year-old RFK Stadium.

Under his initial proposal, MacFarlane offered to pay for the stadium, estimated to cost between $150 million and $200 million, if the city allowed him to develop 8 million square feet at Poplar Point. MacFarlane also has asked the city to contribute $350 million in infrastructure for the overall development project.

But under the terms of the competitive bidding process established by Fenty, developers have been asked to submit proposals that limit development to about 4 million square feet. Bids are due Nov. 2.

"DC United has told us they would explore their options both inside and outside the District and they've also told us they are still working with a developer to possibly submit a proposal for Poplar Point," Neil O. Albert, deputy mayor for economic development, said in a statement.

Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who represents the area where Poplar Point is located, said yesterday that they support MacFarlane.

"I don't blame Maryland for trying to get" United, Barry said. "They've got more sense than the Fenty administration does."

Staff writer Steven Goff contributed to this report.

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