Washington Post Staff Writer
Those interested in developing Poplar Point in Southeast Washington must submit proposals to the mayor by Nov. 2. (By Alexandra Garcia -- Washingtonpost.com)
By David Nakamura
Sunday, October 21, 2007; Page C06
District residents who live east of the Anacostia River demanded yesterday that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty support D.C. United's plan to build a soccer stadium in their community, saying the project would stimulate economic growth in a neglected part of the city.
At a public hearing held by D.C. Council members at Thurgood Marshall Academy charter school, residents, one after another, testified in favor of United's proposal to build a 27,000-seat stadium and mixed-use development at Poplar Point, a 110-acre strip of parkland along the river in Ward 8.
"Our people are crying for support, asking for help. United has come in and helped our youth. Where is the recognition for that?" asked Dorothy Douglas, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who grew up near the proposed site. "This is an opportunity for the mayor to step up to the plate. Mayor Adrian Fenty, you have to look at the future, the future of young kids and senior citizens and Ward 8. They deserve this."
The show of support -- roughly 80 people attended the hearing, most in favor of the stadium -- ramped up pressure on the mayor. Fenty (D) had been informally negotiating with United principal partner Victor B. MacFarlane for months before breaking off talks during the summer and opening a competitive bidding process to solicit other proposals.
United officials, in return, threatened to move to Virginia or Maryland. Last week, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) publicly urged state officials to pursue the franchise.
James Bunn, executive director of the Ward 8 Business Council, noted the potential tax revenue generated by a stadium and pleaded, "We should do everything we can to ensure we do not lose this team to the state of Maryland."
Fenty did not attend the hearing, organized by Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), chairman of the council's Committee on Economic Development. Valerie Santos Young, chief operating officer for the mayor's economic development office, tried to alleviate residents' concerns by emphasizing that the administration remains open to a stadium.
"Poplar Point might be an excellent place for a stadium," she said. "But, again, we want to make sure that we examine all the options, capture all the great ideas that are out there, before committing to anything."
The Poplar Point site, across the Anacostia from the Nationals' new baseball stadium, is now owned by the federal government but is being transferred to District control. Under the competitive process designed by Fenty, developers interested in the site must submit proposals to the mayor's office by Nov. 2.
Although the administration hopes to select a "master developer" by January, officials said the city can select a developer whether or not the developer participates in the formal process.
A 37-page document, "Request for Expressions of Interest," lays out basic qualifications each development team must meet, such as showing that it has completed successful waterfront projects similar in scope.
But the document is vague about what types of development the city is seeking.
The document stipulates only that 70 acres must be reserved for a park -- a requirement established by the federal government -- and that small, local businesses must receive 35 percent of contracting dollars. Fenty also has said 30 percent of any new housing must be affordable for lower-income residents.
City planning officials said they were deliberately vague to encourage creative, "outside-the-box" thinking. But residents said yesterday that Fenty has ignored years of planning undertaken by his predecessor, former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
In 2003, Williams created the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., a quasi-independent government agency that held dozens of community meetings and established a framework plan that included a stadium, up to 900,000 square feet of retail space, 800 hotel rooms and 3,000 housing units, as well as the 70-acre park.
But Fenty disbanded the agency and took control of the Poplar Point planning, a point of contention for some residents.
"D.C. United has been in the community for quite a while now working with the community," said Sandra Seegars, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8. "The new mayor comes in and takes us back to step one. We don't need to start over again."
Under MacFarlane's plan, total development would reach 8.5 million square feet -- twice the amount of space envisioned by the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. MacFarlane offered to pay for the stadium, expected to cost from $150 million to $200 million, if the city would contribute $350 million in infrastructure for the development project.
Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who supports MacFarlane, told the audience yesterday that Fenty and his aides "are nice people, but they don't know what they're doing."
Percy Battle, who has lived in Ward 8 more than 70 years, said he believes a stadium would be a catalyst for the kind of additional development his community desperately needs.
"While much of the District has experienced unprecedented economic development, Anacostia has been left in the dust," Battle said. "Over the years, we have lost much in the way of everyday services: restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, hardware stores -- the list goes on and on."