The District government’s proposal to build a new soccer stadium for DC United is deeply unpopular with city residents, with six in ten opposing a plan in which the District would put up $150 million for the project, according to a new Washington Post poll.
But Washingtonians can be fickle about their stadiums. The Post’s poll found that the city-financed construction of Nationals Park is now seen by a wide majority as having been worth the investment. Seventy-one percent said the $650 million taxpayers put up to build the baseball stadium has been a net positive for the city; at the time construction was announced, residents were split nearly evenly on public financing.
“The big picture is that it’s consistent that DC residents don’t think putting a lot of taxpayer money into sports stadiums is a good idea,” says Ed Lazere, the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which has been skeptical of the plan to build a 20,000-seat soccer venue. “For us, it’s encouraging to know that residents want to make sure that the city is getting a good deal when we work to bring a new soccer stadium to the city.”
Since the stadium project was introduced last July—the high point of the worst season of United’s 18-season history—the city has lagged in completing deals to acquire four parcels on Southwest DC’s Buzzard Point being eyed for the stadium. The nine-acre tract is currently split by the development firm Akridge, Pepco, the investor Mark Ein, and a salvage yard. While Akridge and the city have been engaged in talks to swap the company’s plot for the Frank D. Reeves municipal building at 14th and U streets, Northwest, progress with Ein and the scrap yard have been going much more slowly.
The terms of the agreement the District and United signed last year also stipulated that the land swaps would be arranged by the first of this year, with legislation going before the DC Council for its approval. “Everyone acknowledged it was a ridiculously unrealistic schedule to begin with,” Lazere says.
The stadium plan is also becoming a factor in the mayoral race. Several of Mayor Vince Gray’s opponents, including Council member Muriel Bowser and Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal, have come out against the plan. Council member Tommy Wells, whose ward includes Buzzard Point, is generally supportive of building the stadium, although he has said any land swap should include the construction of affordable housing units.
With the upcoming political schedule, Lazere doubts much progress will be made on the stadium in the immediate future.
“Given that we’re now just a couple months from a primary you wonder if the mayor will wait anyway,” he says. “It’s also the start of budget season.”