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Baltimore mayor eyes United

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Southwest Baltimore has surfaced as the next possible home for D.C. United.

With plans for a new stadium in the D.C. area stalled, the area's MLS franchise is being recruited by Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to explore building a facility for the team in the city's Westport neighborhood.

Dixon wrote a letter to the stadium authority last month noting United had "abandoned" recent plans to build in Prince George's County and asked for a new study to determine the feasibility of such a project. Dixon suggested the stadium be built as part of a mixed-use project near Interstate 95, I-295 and Light Rail, with proximity to the city's downtown stadium complex. As an example, she offered the 42-acre Westport Waterfront project on the west banks of the Patapsco River's Middle Branch.

Dixon has not had any discussions with United about a move, but team officials did not dismiss the possibility.

"D.C. United continues to search for an appropriate, long term home for our team," the club said in a statement. "Baltimore has demonstrated its ability to work with the State to create world-class facilities for the Orioles and Ravens. We believe a new D.C. United Stadium can be an exciting and vital economic engine and look forward to the results of the Maryland Stadium Authority study of a Baltimore City location. Our conversations with other municipalities will continue."

News of Dixon's letter was first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal.

Michael Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, and Terry Hasseltine, executive director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing, did not return calls seeking comment. Calls to Patrick Turner, the lead developer of the Westport project, also went unreturned.

United plays in 48-year-old RFK Stadium and has long insisted it must move into a new stadium to remain financially competitive. The team appeared close to a deal for a stadium at Poplar Point in Southeast in 2007, but plans fell apart amid disagreement between the city and team over costs.

At United's request, the stadium authority in December 2007 commissioned a market study for a potential stadium in Prince George's County. The study, issued in September 2008, concluded that a soccer stadium could create as much as $80 million in economic impact. With that study in hand, the team proposed a new stadium in the area around FedEx Field, but Maryland legislators this past spring shot down a measure allowing for plans to be developed.

While the 2008 study dealt specifically with Prince George's County, Dixon suggested it provided the basis to look at Baltimore as an option.

"In light of the substantial benefits described in the 2008 study, it is well worth considering whether the City of Baltimore might explore the merits of a new soccer stadium in Baltimore for D.C. United," she wrote.

Dixon spokesman Scott Peterson said officials were inspired by the Chelsea-AC Milan match at M&T Bank Stadium in July, which drew a sellout crowd of more than 70,000. Peterson cautioned that discussions are in the early stages but said the city preferred to build a stadium without using taxpayer dollars.

"The desire is not to use any public money for the project, but we're going to take things one step at a time," Peterson said. "We are well-aware of the state of the economy. We want this to be a benefit to the city."

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