- The Washington Times - Friday, October 22, 2004

D.C. United will retain its lucrative base of sideline seats at RFK Stadium despite the arrival of baseball at the 43-year-old stadium, according to plans being developed by the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

As the District vigorously pursued the Montreal Expos in Major League Baseball’s protracted relocation chase, the long-held assumption was that about 5,000 of United’s most fervent and well-paying fans would be moved to less desirable locations to make room for a baseball outfield.

Many of those seats will still be moved from the north end of the stadium to the west side in the reconfiguration for baseball. But for every United game, sports commission officials plan to use temporary seating on the baseball field to protect the soccer team’s revenues.

The seats currently are occupied by the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava fan clubs for United games and provide more than $90,000 in revenue for the team each home match.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep the United fan support right around the field,” said Mark Tuohey, sports commission chairman. “We need to make this work for everybody.”

The accommodation by the sports commission is but one element in a still-tenuous melding of baseball and soccer at RFK. The soon-to-be-renamed Expos, given expected large crowds and 81 home dates, predictably have priority in scheduling and most other operations facets.

United president Kevin Payne, however, has openly bristled at the possibility of a torn-up soccer field, as well as the lack of progress in finalizing plans for two years of co-operation at the stadium. Ideally, United hopes to have its own soccer-specific facility by 2007.

Soon after MLB announced three weeks ago its intention to move the Expos to Washington, Payne said, “Do I want Freddy Adu to go out there and blow his knee out playing because there is a baseball infield? No — or any other player for that matter.”

A plan to abate concerns about field quality remains under discussion and likely will await the hiring of a team of planning and construction professionals to aid the $13million renovation of RFK for baseball. Those hires are expected in the next six weeks.

A probable scenario is the use of temporary trays of sod laid over the basepaths and any other uncovered ground needed for soccer. But a still unresolved hurdle in that idea is how to keep the temporary grass at the same height as the permanent RFK field.

“We appreciate the fact the sports commission is keeping our fans’ interest in mind as they plan for next year,” Payne said. “We look forward to meeting with them in order to discuss these plans in detail.”

The soccer issue is one on a mammoth task list to upgrade RFK in time for the baseball team’s April15 home opener against Arizona. The laundry list also includes the upgrading of press boxes and locker rooms, the re-creation of a visitors dugout, establishing new wiring and camera positions for telecasts and improving the field’s drainage system.

Sports commission officials received a significant head start through more than $5million in improvements led by former commission president Bobby Goldwater between late 2000 and last October. But a breakneck pace still will be required between now and spring. Likely first on the list is the ordering of sod for the playing field, something that needs to be done soon to allow for growth in a warm southern climate. The sod will then be cut up, transported and installed at RFK in the late winter.

“If the soccer and baseball seasons didn’t run concurrently, a lot of this would be easy. The trick is meshing the two and doing it all on the fly,” stadium manager Troy Scott said.

In another District baseball development, the National Taxpayers Union, one of a diverse collection of groups opposing plans to build a $435.2million ballpark in Southeast, released a letter sent to Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed by 90 economists affirming their belief the new stadium will not generate significant economic benefit for the city.

The signees come from all over the country, and include Andrew Zimbalist, Smith College economist and a frequent critic of MLB fiscal policy.

“Sports stadiums do not increase overall entertainment spending but merely shift from other entertainment venues to the stadium,” the letter reads.

The sentiment directly battles success stories such as downtown Denver, lower San Francisco, the area immediately surrounding MCI Center in Northwest, and other areas visibly transformed by the presence of a new sports facility.


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