Saturday, July 21, 2007

Poplar Point Stadium in Trouble? -- The Washington Post is running a story this morning (Talks Fall Apart On Stadium for D.C. Soccer Team), on the apparent collapse of negotiations between the team and the city over United's plans to develop Poplar Point. United is asking for the moon here, even though they aren't asking the city to fund the proposed stadium, itself. Still, my biggest concern about the plan is the Metro accessibility.

Under the team's proposal, the new stadium would appear to be a bit of a hike from the Anacostia station, which is on the other side of I-295. United doesn't even mention Metro access in its online presentation, though they mention a water ferry (I guess residents in the area around the new baseball stadium could take this ferry over -- United aren't seriously thinking they can substitute a ferry for Metro access?). I might suggest a redesign that brings the stadium closer to the station, and possibly offers the prospect of access from the station directly -- or, at least has safe passage across or under the highway.

Personally, I think it makes the most sense to try and place the stadium on the other side of the highway, near the Metro, but the team wants the prime waterfront property for the stadium. I'm not sure that's the best use of the waterfront property, and city officials may have similar misgivings. Still, it seems like that could be worked out. The D.C. United proposal is probably too ambitious in developing too much of the park land, but that is also something that could be worked out in negotiations.

Some are talking about building a new stadium on the current RFK site. It's not such a bad idea, though it lacks the symmetry of having the baseball and football stadiums in such close proximity, on opposite sides of the Anacostia River. As a soccer fan, though, I'd hate to see RFK get torn down. United is planning for only a 27,000 seat stadium. Thare will be exhibitions and national team games that will be better suited to RFK, than either the smaller, new stadium or the cavernous FedEx Field. Realistically, though, the city is not likely to maintain the stadium for very long, with the prospect of only one or two events a year.

The RFK site might be preferable, though, for the new stadium. I think United is being shortsighted in building such a small facility. Already, we see the demand for tickets to games like the Beckham (Galaxy) match, is much greater than that. In 20 or 30 years the team may want a bigger park to play in. The RFK site might present a better prospect to build a bigger facility later on.

Of course, stadiums should have a longer life than 20 years. In building the new stadium, I think United ought to reconsider and aim for a capacity of at least 30,000 now -- but the plans ought to be flexible enough to allow for future expansion.

In the current negotiations, both sides need to be more flexible. I know United wants the whole shooting match, to build a Poplar Point stadium, and develop the land around it, but they shouldn't make the mistake of leaving the city for the suburbs. The grass really isn't going to be any greener in Mayland or Virginia.

On the other hand, as for giving the team such control to develop a wide swath of prime real estate, the city could do worse. Someone's going to get that land -- why not the DC United ownership? That would weave the team into the fabric of the city for generations, without worrying they might move to the suburbs. Besides, a lot of young Capitol Hill workers may end up there, when the residential components get built. There will be a lot of soccer fans in that group. They'd love to have the stadium close by. And it can't hurt the city to make congressional staffers happy.

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