- - Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The whispers from those whose voices are probably hoarse by now are that Josh Harris and his group are nearing the finish line on a deal with Skipper Dan the Sailing Man to purchase the Washington Commanders.

Many have been reporting Harris has the inside track, and an offer expected to be in the neighborhood of $6 billion could be announced any day now, though it may take a few months to get approval by NFL owners. That’s what my sources have told me as well.

Of course, this is a race controlled by Skipper Dan, which means any number of things could go wrong before the finish line — lame horses, fixed jockeys or some other calamity.

Remember, Skipper Dan has a championship pedigree of pettiness. The truth is Skipper Dan would just as soon continue sailing the world as the owner of the Washington Commanders.

Also, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos may come out of the homestretch and blow by Harris. He has the money to do so. What we don’t know is if he has the true desire.

I know the reports have been that Skipper Dan has frozen Bezos out of the bidding because of the negative coverage of the owner from Bezos’ paper, the Washington Post. But it’s hard to believe that the NFL will let Snyder keep Bezos out of the mix if he really wants in. Bezos is an important business partner of the league, paying $1 billion a year to broadcast NFL games Thursday nights on his Amazon Prime network.

For now, though, all indications are that Harris, his partner, local business leader and philanthropist Mitchell Rales — along with NBA legend Magic Johnson, who recently joined the effort — are on the verge of becoming the owners of the Commanders. That will certainly set off a celebration among Washington’s remaining few faithful and among the many estranged fans who have been waiting for Skipper Dan’s banishment.

Part of that celebration will be about the rekindling of hope that the team can finally get back to negotiating on a new stadium with Maryland or Virginia — or even the District. 

Maryland wants to tear down Ghost Town Field and build a new facility right next door. Virginia has floated a couple of proposals. But the sentimental move — and the one that makes the most business sense — is the District. The objectionable name that city leaders hated has been changed. Add to that the expected departure of Skipper Dan and his significant political baggage, and the prospects of bringing the team in from the suburbs — perhaps even returning to the old RFK Stadium site —are considerably improved.

There will remain significant roadblocks.

The D.C. Council has been opposed to the notion of another football stadium at that location no matter who the owner of the team is (though the land is federally owned). The neighborhood is opposed as well, and that neighborhood is filled with lobbyists and lawyers and Capitol Hill workers who know how to fight City Hall.     

Even if those hurdles are overcome, it is important to note that there is no public money to actually build the stadium. There is the land, and there may be a willingness to pay for infrastructure. But the billions it will take for construction will have to come from ownership.

That may be a challenge for Harris and company. He is already trying to build a new $1.3 billion arena in Philadelphia for his Philadelphia 76ers. Planning, building and financing two new sports facilities is a massive undertaking.

The 76ers are tired of being tenants at the Wells Fargo Center and Harris and his partner, David Blitzer, are looking to build a new arena in Center City Philadelphia — specifically the city’s Chinatown neighborhood. They have a partner in the deal in Philadelphia billionaire David Adelman.

They are running into strong opposition from local businesses and residents who believe the arena would wipe out their neighborhood.

The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation has come out in opposition, saying the plan “deeply imperils the future of Chinatown.” Ironically, they are citing Capital One Arena — which by most measures here has been considered a success in transforming downtown Washington — as their example of development causing the destruction of a neighborhood.

“Stadiums have had a gentrifying impact on low-income communities of color across the country — Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, Atlanta, and the list goes on,” the corporation said in a statement. “The Capital One Arena in Washington DC contributed to the demise of the city’s Chinatown. We will not allow Philadelphia Chinatown to be another one of these tragic stories.”

If Harris is the new Commanders owner and attempts to move forward quickly with the effort to build a new stadium in the District, he will be fighting for new sports facilities on two fronts. That’s more than a full plate financially and politically.

Bezos wouldn’t have that same challenge and, as many have acknowledged, appears to easily have the financial resources to handle the costs of a new stadium. But it is worth noting that Amazon announced earlier this month that it is stopping construction of some buildings at its second headquarters in Arlington.

Amazon also recently laid off a small city — 27,000 employees in the last six months.

The big dream remains a new owner for the Commanders, no matter who it is. The smaller dream is a return to the site of their glory at the RFK Stadium site. The first dream coming true does not guarantee the second one will follow.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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