Would a new soccer stadium be good for DC? Would it be good for Southwest?
The answers are not clear-cut, but they could be “yes” in both cases, if the right steps are taken. Right now, the proposed deal is not very good for the city as a whole; it puts too much cost and risk on the public treasury instead of on the team owner. The bare-bones proposal also makes no reference to community consultation or benefits. That could change as the deal progresses, but only if SW residents speak up and get involved.
DC United is important to the Washington DC region and a new stadium would be a welcome addition, but the excitement over a new stadium should not stop us from asking the hard questions about the deal, particularly whether it is good for the stadium’s immediate neighbors, or for the city as a whole.
That means we need to talk about money. The team, which is losing money at RFK stadium, has, in effect, gotten a half-price offer to get a new stadium. The district has offered $150 million to buy and prepare land. The team owner, by contrast, would get the spoils, keeping all revenue from tickets, concessions, ads, and naming rights, in addition to enjoying a big jump in the team’s market value. United has not gotten this sweet of an offer from any other jurisdiction, and neither have most soccer teams, where the typical public stadium financing is about $80 million.
Also, while the team owner gets a safety net, the risks to the city are great. The costs of buying land that has unknown environmental hazards, relocating a PEPCO substation, and providing new infrastructure could easily surpass $150 million. The proposed deal also calls for DC taxpayers to take steps to ensure the team makes a “reasonable profit,” by reducing the team’s property tax bill and turning over sales taxes collected on stadium activities.
Every dollar spent on a soccer stadium is a dollar that could be spent building a new school, housing for homeless families, or stocking schools and libraries with technology. Just months ago, Mayor Gray made an announcement of $100 million for housing. Now he is talking about providing even more for soccer. Why should a soccer stadium suddenly be the city’s top budget priority?
Beyond the costs and risk, the proposed “land swap” should also raise eyebrows. Trading the Reeves Center and other public properties may help the city acquire the stadium land quickly, but it isn’t the best way for DC to get the most out of its assets. If the District is ready to sell some of its properties, an important issue that merits public discussion, those properties should be sold to the highest bidder.
Finally, a new stadium could prove to be a win for the surrounding neighborhood, but none of those details have been worked out and many questions remain. Buzzard Point is home to marinas, the Earth Conservation Corps, parks, and more. What would happen to those? What will the District do to ensure that the added traffic volume is not disruptive? Will the stadium’s job opportunities go to area residents, particularly those in nearby public housing, and will they pay living wages? Finally, many soccer stadiums are part of larger recreational facilities. Will DC’s stadium come with public fields, youth soccer opportunities, or other public amenities?
A new soccer stadium at Buzzard Point could be a great thing, or it could a bust. The deal is far from final, and there will be opportunities to assess and change it. The proposal has to be spelled out in more detail and go before the Council for review. That means there will be many chances for residents of SW and the whole city to make sure we get a soccer stadium that is a benefit for everyone.
By: Ed Lazere