Friday, February 15, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said yesterday he is committed to placing a new soccer-only stadium at Poplar Point in Southeast, resurrecting hopes that D.C. United will continue playing in the District.

Fenty stressed that the city has not struck a deal with the team but said he has had positive discussions with the Major League Soccer team over the last month about building the stadium as part of a $2.5 billion redevelopment of the 110-acre Poplar Point site.

“We understand that playing at RFK Stadium can’t work,” Fenty said. “We want to find a new stadium for D.C. United. Since Jan. 2, I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve personally had with D.C. United, let alone my staff, to try and come up with a proposal that makes sense for the District of Columbia.”

Fenty made his remarks after announcing that the District selected Clark Realty as the master developer for the redevelopment of the Poplar Point site. Clark beat out several other companies during a competitive bidding process and has proposed millions of square feet of retail, housing and office space along with a 70-acre park.

During the bidding process for the development, Clark had presented plans that included an option for a new soccer-specific stadium. Clark’s sister company, Clark Construction, has built several stadiums including FedEx Field and Nationals Park.

“We’re just really coming to the table now,” Clark Realty Capital managing director Cleve Johnson said. “Obviously, we’ve built stadiums, and we’d love the job. We’re certainly open to working with them.”

Fenty said he favored some public subsidy to construct the stadium, whose cost has been estimated at nearly $200 million. He declined to discuss specific financing plans.

One financing option raised to members of the D.C. Council this week was a plan to use excess revenue from business taxes relating to the financing of the Nationals’ new ballpark. Such a plan likely would meet some resistance because many city leaders had hoped the excess revenue would be used to pay down the ballpark debt early, or be reimbursed to the business community.

Julie Chase, a spokeswoman for D.C. United owner Victor MacFarlane, said the team and city are discussing proposals that would call for some city subsidy — but no new taxes — as well as a “significant” contribution from the team. She said details, including how much the team would contribute, are still in the works.

“We’re certainly happy to be in these negotiations, and we’re just going to take it a step at a time,” Chase said.

Talk of a stadium had appeared on life support as recently as last summer, when Fenty announced that he broke off talks with United in favor of pursuing a competitive bidding process for the redevelopment of Poplar Point. D.C. United responded by holding talks with officials in places outside the District, including Prince George’s County.

But council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said he believed Poplar Point would be redeveloped with a soccer stadium as part of the plan, and supported the use of public funds.

“I want to thank the mayor for being committed the concept of a stadium,” Barry said. “A lot of work has to be done. We’re on the same page. I’ve canvassed most of the members of the council, and I’m confident most of the members support enthusiastically the concept of a stadium.”

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