On Monday, officials from DC United, Prince George’s County, and the state of Maryland gathered for a press conference to announce what had been expected – that the club is officially seeking a new stadium in PG County to open in time to start the 2012 season.
Legislation has been co-sponsored in the Maryland General Assembly to get the project moving, and United co-Executive Chairman Victor B. MacFarlane is working with community and local political leaders to choose one of seven sites for the new stadium. In addition, the team’s practice fields and headquarters would go to PG County, as well. So, what this basically means for those not familiar with the area, the club will be moving a few miles up the road. But that also means the team will be leaving the city of Washington completely, save for the youth and charitable programs that have already been developed, and which the club expects to continue.
All I can say is … it’s about damn time.
This isn’t a case of the team using a different locale as a bargaining chip, as so many baseball teams used to do with Tampa Bay and Washington before they got teams. I fully believe that MacFarlane’s group did everything they could to get the Poplar Point deal done in Washington, keeping the team in the city, and being part of what would have been a massive revitalization (at least that was the goal) of a part of the city that desperately needed it. But city government turned its nose up at it, I guess thinking that at some point, the club would come back with some sort of crazy offer that was somehow better for the city and everyone would be happy.
Instead, United did exactly what it should have done – look for an alternative solution somewhere else. It was noted by PG County Executive Jack Johnson that work had gone on for 18 months to get to this point. That point being, a 24,000-seat urban stadium paid for by tax revenues generated by the stadium facility and from rent by the club (equaling about 1/4 of the cost). Officials on all sides often reiterated how no existing tax dollars would be used to pay for the stadium, and that no money was being diverted from education, public safety, or health care for the project.
The non-soccer reporters in the group reacted with their typical sort of inquisition, asking questions such as what happens to the bond should there be no revenue to pay it off. Because, of course, the minute the stadium is built, the league will fold and there will be no more concerts anywhere in the US, so it will sit empty. Nevermind the fact that United has drawn an average of 20,401 the last two years, and up to 40 concerts/cultural events are planned annually for the facility once completed. There will be plenty of revenue – the only question is how many years will it take for everything to be paid off; a question that no one ever asked.
While I know that some fans in certain areas of Northern Virginia, and perhaps farther south toward Richmond and such are going to have harder game commutes because of this move, I have to believe this is the best of the remaining possible outcomes. The team wasn’t going to stay in DC, no matter how much people wanted that. And I think that was everyone’s first choice. But now, the team has a community that wants them (at the political level, anyway), legislators working for them, and sites to choose from, five of which feature Metro subway accessibility.
There are still plenty of reasons why this might not get done. The Maryland General Assembly is a bit of a fickle beast, one that will defeat ideas over and over until the right person is leading the charge, then pass them through as if the particular piece of legislation is the greatest thing since all-you-can-eat pancakes. The session runs through April 13, though, so there should be time to get something done. Then, there’s possible community opposition to the choice of a site, but MacFarlane is now working at that level to try and ensure that the club will be wanted and received warmly wherever it decides to go.
MacFarlane pointed out during today’s press conference that there are no other talks going on. There is no dealing with the city any longer, and that all efforts moving forward are to bring United to PG County.
I’m hopeful that it’s going to happen, and I’m hopeful it’s going to happen by 2012. But I’m cautious because there are always numerous trap doors and pitfalls in play when trying to complete a deal such as this.
Hopefully, come 2015, we’re not talking about how something for the stadium is only 60-90 days away.