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United introduces its new owners

- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

D.C. United yesterday introduced its new operating group, led by real estate developer Victor MacFarlane, the first black in the history of Major League Soccer to gain controlling interest in a team.

MacFarlane's group includes former Duke basketball teammates Brian Davis and Christian Laettner and William Chang, the chairman of investment firm Westlake International Group. Kevin Payne, D.C. United's president and chief executive officer, will retain his position with the team.

"We are committed to having the resources needed to maintain this world-class team in our world-class city of Washington, D.C.," said MacFarlane, managing director of MacFarlane Partners, a San Francisco-based real estate investment firm with offices in the District. "Yet we encompass all classes of people. Soccer is the number one sport for people of color around the world but not here in the U.S. -- yet. We would like to be part of the change that is now on the horizon."

The group purchased the team from billionaire Philip Anschutz for about $33 million, a record for an MLS team. The group also is in discussions to add John Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Communications, and BET talk show host Carlos Watson.

MacFarlane, Davis and Laettner are expected to be heavily involved in planning any potential development around a proposed soccer-only stadium at Poplar Point in Southeast D.C., one of the poorest sections of the District. MacFarlane predicted his company will inject as much as $10 billion in capital into the city over the next decade. Davis, who grew up in Northwest D.C., already has invested millions of dollars with Laettner to redevelop portions of Durham, N.C., with their company, Blue Devil Ventures.

But the two stopped short of saying they would commit to help pay for the 27,000-seat stadium, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who was an ardent opponent of public financing for the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals, also offered no indication of how the stadium would be paid for.

"We obviously want to make sure this team has the best facility possible," Fenty said. "I think we're at the very introductory stages of any type of developmental plan for the stadium, but hopefully the presence of myself, the council and the rest of the government here is a sign of support that we are willing to get something done."

Any proposal involving public funding would require approval from the D.C. Council, which has not been formally briefed on any stadium proposals.

"I haven't seen any details, but when I get them I'm going to take a very close look at them," said Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat and new chairman of the council's committee on economic development. "The city's checkbook is not open to a sports franchise that wants us to build them a new stadium. I have no interest in that conversation at all."

Officials said plans must move forward quickly to ensure the stadium is built in time for the 2009 season. The city is still waiting for the final transfer of the land for the stadium from the National Park Service and must help relocate office buildings and a helicopter landing pad that now inhabit the site.

MacFarlane, Davis and other members of the investment group said they plan to expand D.C. United's presence in the city's lower-income communities, particularly in Ward 8, where the new stadium is planned. MacFarlane said he will install an all-purpose turf field east of the Anacostia River at a cost of about $500,000.

"We're going to reach out to every single official here in the city to make sure they understand what the benefits are," MacFarlane said. "We believe we're giving back to the city. And if at the end of the day they don't support [a stadium], we don't want it."