Tuesday, January 22, 2008

12/22/06: The Washington Post - Soccer Stadium by 2009? City and D.C. United Differ

Team Keeps Hope Despite Hurdles in Area's Redevelopment

A stadium is planned for Poplar Point, but the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. has yet to hire a master planner to create a redevelopment plan for the area.
A stadium is planned for Poplar Point, but the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. has yet to hire a master planner to create a redevelopment plan for the area. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

By David Nakamura and Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 22, 2006; Page B04

D.C. United officials remain hopeful that a 27,000-seat soccer stadium can be built at Poplar Point along the Anacostia River by 2009, but District officials say significant challenges remain that could delay the project.

Although city planners have not ruled out opening a stadium in 2009, they said the project is behind schedule because of complications related to the transfer of 100 acres of federal land -- which includes the stadium site -- to the city.

Once the District gets title to the land, it must pay to clear the site of contamination and to relocate National Park Service facilities, officials said.

Even then, the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., which has been designated by the city to oversee development along the river, has said it will hire a master developer to create an integrated plan with housing and office and retail space before moving forward with a soccer stadium.

"It's challenging," said Stephen Goldsmith, the corporation's chairman. "The soccer guys think they can move quickly, but we're not where they expect us to be today."

For the past 2 1/2 years, as District leaders have been focused on the political fight to finance and build a baseball stadium near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street SE, the soccer stadium project has taken a back seat.

But with the Washington Nationals set to move out of 45-year-old Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium by April 2008, the soccer project has taken on increasing urgency. The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission is trying to figure out RFK's future and hopes that United will find a new home.

"If a new soccer stadium is not ready for '09, we can keep RFK open for that year," said Mark H. Tuohey, the commission's chairman. "If you're talking an additional two years, we'd have to look carefully at that."

District leaders view Poplar Point, in Ward 8 across the Anacostia River from the baseball stadium site, as a critical plot whose development will help revitalize the long-neglected riverfront, just as the ballpark is expected to do on the Ward 6 side.

Officials consider the area, with sweeping river views, ideal for housing development. But so far, the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. has not settled on what else to build at Poplar Point.

This month, the corporation unveiled two plans. Both showed office, retail and residential development clustered in three areas: near Good Hope Road SE to the east, W Street SE in the middle and Howard Road SE farther west. One of the plans included a soccer stadium, showing the field in place of the development near W Street, with a 4,000-space parking garage and a 500-room conference center and hotel.

Unlike the baseball stadium, which is being funded with $611 million in public money, the city has not pledged any funding for the soccer stadium, which is projected to cost roughly $150 million.

Goldsmith's staff is considering two options to pay for a stadium. Under one scenario, United would finance the project and be awarded control of the surrounding development. Under the other, the city would keep control of the development and use tax money generated from the site to pay for the stadium. Either option would amount to public financing, because the city would be giving up assets that could otherwise pay for other city services.

The Anacostia Waterfront Corp. has scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 20.

Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty (D) has expressed general support for the redevelopment of Poplar Point, but he has not said how he expects the project to be financed. As the Ward 4 D.C. Council member, Fenty was a chief opponent of public funding of the baseball stadium.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) first opposed the soccer stadium, but he now supports the project.

United could remain at RFK, but team officials balk at the prospect of playing in the cavernous 45,000-seat building. New, medium-sized stadiums have become a trend in Major League Soccer as a way to create a more intimate environment and, in turn, increase attendance.

United, which is in the process of being sold to an ownership group that has said it would build the stadium, has been working on designs with HKS Inc., an architecture firm based in Dallas.

Team President Kevin Payne reiterated recently that he expects the stadium to be ready by 2009.

"It's not going to be an easy task," Payne said. "There are a lot of things that have to be done. These things always take longer than you think they are going to. . . . But it can be done, and we're not willing to concede that it's not possible to open it by 2009."

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