- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

MLS commissioner Don Garber yesterday said he is prepared to tell D.C. United to move outside the District if a deal for a new stadium isn’t finalized in the next few months.

Garber, who appeared at a fundraising luncheon for United’s charitable arm, said he found it “frustrating and continually surprising” that the city and team have not agreed on a plan to move out of RFK Stadium into a new soccer-only stadium in the city.

“RFK has served this team well, and it served the Nationals well for a few years,” Garber said. “But it would be inconceivable for baseball to be played long-term in RFK, and it’s inconceivable that MLS would continue to play in that stadium. So either we resolve it here, or we’re going to push this ownership group to move out of the District. And I say that with a heavy heart.”

Asked how long he is willing to wait, Garber said, “I’d like this to get resolved in a matter of months.”

The notion of building a stadium at Poplar Point in Southeast has received strong community support, and the two sides appeared close to a deal last year that called for a facility to be built along with mixed-use development at the site.

But D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty instead put the project out for competitive bidding, with a soccer stadium only as an option for the site. The city awarded the redevelopment project to Clark Realty last month.

Fenty has since presented council members with a plan to pay for a portion of the stadium using excess money raised from the financing of the Nationals’ new ballpark. Discussions with the D.C. Council, which would have to approve such a plan, are in their early stages.

“There really hasn’t been any change in a number of weeks,” United owner Victor MacFarlane said. “We’re kind of just waiting for the city to ascertain whether it’s ready to move forward.”

A Fenty spokesman said recent talks have centered around formulating a proposal that would have strong support from the D.C. Council.

“I don’t think there’s been a lot of new movement,” said Sean Madigan, a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. “It’s really about just trying to make people comfortable with that, and then we can move forward.”

While United has waited years for a new facility, other MLS franchises have moved into new soccer-specific stadiums, often with little controversy. New franchises in St. Louis and Philadelphia recently gained approval for soccer-specific stadiums, and seven existing franchises have their own facilities.

“It’s a little frustrating that we see communities around the country getting stadiums in approved for places that don’t even have teams yet,” United president Kevin Payne said. “We think we’re a good investment for the city. We hope it will get done.”

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