- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A bill before the Maryland Legislature calling for a new D.C. United stadium in Prince George’s County is expected to be amended to remove any mention of the state selling bonds to finance the project.

At a hearing Tuesday before the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee, the bill’s sponsor, Del. Melony Griffith, said the new version of the legislation would call for the Maryland Stadium Authority to enter into negotiations with the county and United about the new facility.

The change is an apparent reaction to residents’ concerns that the project was moving too quickly without public input. Tuesday’s hearing included testimony from more than a dozen residents who opposed the use of public funds for the new facility.

Committee members offered little reaction to the bill, which has been touted by the team as a first step toward injecting millions of dollars in economic benefits to the county and state.

United owner Victor MacFarlane reiterated his belief that the $190 million stadium would generate as much as $7 million in tax revenue each year, with additional benefits coming from new jobs and new real estate projects.

“This could be a kickoff to more and better development,” he told the committee.

The original version of the bill introduced last month specified that the stadium authority could sell up to $178 million in bonds to finance a stadium. The amended version will make no mention of a bond issuance.

Team officials said they still would need to work with the stadium authority and county planners on identifying and preparing a site and all parties would have to agree on a financing plan. The county also would hold hearings on the issue.

“It does not make the stadium a done deal,” said Griffith, Prince George’s Democrat. “Shovels will not go into the ground if this bill passes.”

United’s owners said they were hopeful the bill will be approved before the current legislative session adjourns April 17.

MacFarlane said the team has narrowed its list of potential sites for the stadium to two, with a preferred location near the Morgan Boulevard Metro station and a second site on Brightseat Road adjacent to the old Landover Mall. The team hopes to choose a site within the next month and develop a master plan for the area, he said.

Jerry Mathis, a real estate agent in the county, said he was skeptical of Griffith’s claim that the bill should be viewed only as “enabling legislation.”

“They’ve been talking for months,” Mathis said. “They’ve just been waiting for months, and once they get on the tracks, it’s all over.”

A financing plan previously announced by United estimated the stadium will cost between $180 million and $195 million with $130 million to $141 million covered by tax revenue produced by the stadium. State taxes would cover between $83 million and $90 million of that money, while county taxes would cover $47 million to $51 million. The remaining costs would be paid back through annual rent payments by the team. Any financing plan would have to receive the approval of the Board of Public Works.

A study commissioned by the stadium authority estimated the stadium would generate nearly $7 million in annual taxes in 2012, the first year the facility would open. The study, by Crossroads Consulting Services, estimated the stadium would hold between 54 and 63 events each year, including 15 MLS games and some college games and home games for the Washington Freedom of Women’s Professional Soccer. The consulting firm estimated the stadium would result in as much as $80 million annually in economic benefits.

Several fans, including members of La Barra Brava supporter group, testified that they would travel to the stadium from as far away as Virginia and would spend money in Prince George’s County when attending games. Earlier in the day, nearly 100 D.C. United supporters, most of them in scarves with team logos, marched in a group from Dock Street in Annapolis to the house office building, chanting, “D.C. United!” and “We want a stadium!”

County business leaders also said they supported the stadium.

“This is an example of what we can do,” said Thomas Graham, a Prince George’s County resident and board member of the county’s economic development corporation. “Here is an opportunity to create jobs in the state of Maryland and more importantly the community where I live.”

A number of other residents, however, remained skeptical of the team’s claims.

“We need not rush this bill,” county resident Jacques Chevalier said. “We need to kill this bill and save the taxpayers of Prince George’s County. This isn’t economics, people. This is some voodoo Reaganomics we used to have back in the day.”

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