- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The press conference Monday to introduce the new owners of D.C. United turned out to be quite an event. But I probably should have guessed it would be, as it was held inside the “Crystal Room” at the Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Why is it that so many classy hotels have W’s in their names? The Willard, the Waldorf Astoria, the Wellington … Starwood even owns a chain of upscale hotels called “W Hotels.”

D.C. United treated the announcement like a big deal, and I guess it was, although the sale of a sports team really just amounts to a bunch of money transferring between rich people. This was hardly like Major League Baseball finally getting around to selling the Nationals, or like Marge Schott selling the Reds. Keep in mind that United won MLS Cups under previous owner Phil Anschutz, so there was never any clamoring for new ownership by fans.

That said, the amalgamation of people who will now run D.C. United is a pretty interesting group.

Victor MacFarlane, the head of the group, is ridiculously rich, probably stays in many W-named hotels and has eyes on redeveloping large swaths of land in D.C., including east of the Anacostia River, where United’s stadium is planned. Part-owner Brian Davis, the former Duke-basketball-player-turned-developer, will also be involved. (His business partner, a goofy-looking tall guy by the name of Christian Laettner, is also a minority owner of United now.)

From what I have been told, MacFarlane and his group want to be the lead developers of the land surrounding the stadium at Poplar Point in Ward 8. MacFarlane bristled at the suggestion that he’s only interested in D.C. United because of the real estate opportunities, but the reality is this gives him a huge edge over any other developers that want a piece of that project.

Meanwhile, United President Kevin Payne said he wants a new stadium built by 2009. I’ve talked to several people who say that’s an awfully tight timeline, but here’s what will probably go down in some way, shape or form: MacFarlane and his group will foot the bill for all or most of the 27,000-seat stadium (the city will provide the land) and the team will then be given the rights to develop the bulk of land surrounding the facility.

It could turn out to be a relatively fair deal for both sides; the city avoids using public dollars for a stadium, but is guaranteed to see some economic development in the area. MacFarlane, meanwhile, could make a killing off the development (perhaps enough to offset the cost of the stadium in the long run), and gets a stadium without having to pay rent. And depending on how he finances the stadium, he may even be able to keep the majority of the revenue produced by the facility.

Before any of that happens, though, the city needs to get the deed for the land at Poplar Point from the federal government. President Bush has authorized the transfer, but to actually obtain the deed the city and feds have to work to find new homes for some of the offices and a helicopter landing pad that are now on the site. So, everyone is continuing to wait a little while longer. Stay tuned.

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