- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

D.C. United owner Victor MacFarlane said Monday his team could begin play in a new stadium in Prince George’s County as early as the second half of the 2011 season and promised that no existing tax dollars would be used to finance its construction.

Team officials said they were hopeful Maryland legislators would approve a bill allowing for the sale of bonds for the facility by the end of this year. They said they are working to identify a site for the stadium within the next 30 days.

“This is a new day for D.C. United,” MacFarlane said at a press conference with state and county officials. “We now see a new, permanent home for our club and our fans.”

Under the terms of legislation presented to the Maryland General Assembly last week, the 24,000-seat stadium would be financed largely from the sale of bonds by the Maryland Stadium Authority, backed by expected tax revenues generated from the stadium. The bill specifies the principal of the bonds could not exceed $178 million. Money from premium and interest on those bonds also could be used toward building the facility, potentially allowing for more than $190 million in available funds for construction.

“It allows the Stadium Authority to utilize resources that they’re earning to help pay for the stadium,” said Delegate Melony Griffith, Prince George’s County Democrat. “That just makes good business sense.”

A study commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority last year concluded the stadium would bring in more than $6 million in taxes annually while creating as much as $80 million in direct economic investment, representing as many as 1,000 jobs.

Rent payment by the team is still being negotiated but likely would be several million dollars annually, team president Kevin Payne said. If revenue falls short of what is needed to pay debt service, the state would be responsible for the difference, but officials insisted they anticipate raising far more than what will be required.

United and MLS officials have long insisted that the team needs a new stadium to be financially viable. RFK Stadium, its current home, is in its 48th year and lacks revenue-producing amenities like club seats and luxury suites.

United officials said they are reviewing seven sites in Prince George’s County, most of which would be located near a Metro stop. Officials said they are seeking 12 acres of land and are working to determine whether they would purchase the land, lease it from the county or state, or partner with another developer.

MacFarlane acknowledged that United is building a stadium during challenging economic times but said recent trends suggest it may be less expensive than a year or two ago. For one thing, bond rates are at all-time lows, making it less expensive to pay debt service. He said the financing has been “conservatively underwritten” and that the stadium authority likely would negotiate with contractors for a guaranteed maximum price for construction.

“In many ways it’s the worst of times, but it’s also the best of times,” MacFarlane said. “From one perspective, it’s much easier to forecast what it’s going to cost than it’s ever been in the last 10 years. If anything, the costs are probably moving down in our direction, not up.”

Nevertheless, MacFarlane said he would not ask the state or county for any public money aside from the new taxes on stadium operations.

“In this economic time, it’s very important, and it serves repeating that we understand that we cannot ask for one dollar from the existing tax base,” MacFarlane said. “And we will not. I promise.”

United’s talks with Maryland have come after more than two years of negotiations with the District about a new stadium for the team in Southeast. Those talks broke down last year after the two sides could not agree on a plan.

Team officials said they expect the stadium to host 60 events a year, only 20 of which would be D.C. United games. The team is in talks with the Washington Freedom, the University of Maryland and other groups about using the stadium for games.

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