News & Politics

DC United Stadium Critics Say DC and Soccer Team Are Moving Too Fast

Opponents of the plan to give D.C. United a modern home want the city to hit the brakes, and maybe even give RFK Stadium another chance.

Rendering courtesy of D.C. United.
The NIMBYism over a proposed stadium for D.C. United Wednesday night was so convoluted, even one of the plan’s fiercest opponents had to give it some credit.

“Having a new stadium is good for the city, good for the region, and good for D.C. United,” said Ed Lazere, the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute at a hearing last night about the  $300 million plan to build a new 24,000-seat home for the soccer team—amd Lezere is one of the project’s critics. So it went as skeptics and opponents of the planned stadium for D.C. United groused for two hours that the District government and the soccer team are moving too aggressively in converting a tract of Southwest from an underused industrial zone into a sports and entertainment complex.

The nine acres on Buzzard Point eyed as the stadium site are currently split between Pepco, the development firm Akridge, the investor Mark Ein, and a salvage yard. According to the agreement between the District and United, the city is supposed to trade the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U Sts., Northwest, for Akridge’s two acres. The Reeves Center, at one of the busiest intersections in the city, could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Akridge will also give the city cash when it makes the trade.

But Lazere said that however much the District gets from Akridge in exchange for the Reeves Center, there are better uses for the money than the $150 million the city government plans to spend on upgrading the infrastructure around the stadium site.

“The sale of the Reeves Center could go to roads or schools,” Lazere told the 70-person crowd at last night’s meeting at Arena Stage. Lazere also questioned the price tag the city is offering, saying that just as Nationals Park far exceeded its original projected $611 million cost, DC could wind up paying more than $150 million before D.C. United breaks ground on building the actual stadium.

Lazere added that there is also no guarantee that United won’t spend less than the $150 million it has estimated on stadium construction. The most recent Major League Soccer-specific stadium to be constructed, Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium, was built for $95 million.

While Lazere hit the numbers over and over, many Southwest residents in the audience were most concerned with the alacrity with which the city government is moving on this endeavor.

“Slow down,” many of them said. Several others questioned why United even needs to leave RFK Stadium. One person, speaking through an index card submitted to the event’s moderator, said it was an “insult” to the 52-year-old stadium when the Washington Nationals ended their brief tenure there and that it would be another grave slight for United to leave.

Other residents were concerned about a soccer stadium’s environmental impact. Kael Anderson, a member of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly community group, gave a presentation in which he noted the stadium site is only five meters above the Anacostia River. “One can’t help but wonder if it will be subject to floods,” he said.

City Administrator Allen Lew, who has been the DC government’s point man on the stadium deal, was invited to the meeting, but his office did not send anyone. But the environmental assessment has started; a preliminary draft is due in late November. Lew’s spokesman Tony Robinson disputed the argument that the stadium process is moving too quickly.

“I don’t think from the team’s perspective or the city’s perspective it’s moving too fast,” Robinson says. United has been looking to get out of RFK for more than a decade, and before signing an agreement with the District in July, had flirted with leaving the city entirely. “After ten years we can’t move fast enough to move to complete this.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.