Bridging the Gap: DC United Soccer Stadium

Last month, I summarized the latest wave of development in the Capitol Riverfront, including the proposed DC United Soccer Stadium. I was excited by the announcement on Monday, June 8th that the soccer stadium deal between the DC Government and DC United was completed and signed, meaning that all the planning necessary to deliver a stadium by 2018 can proceed. What is involved in such a planning and development process? Numerous DC Departments are involved in this process and include the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development (DMPED); the DC Office of Planning (OP); the District Department of Transportation (DDOT); the District Department of the Environment (DDOE); the City Administrator; and the Executive Office of the Mayor (EOM). ANC6D, the Capitol Riverfront BID, Buzzard Point property owners, and numerous stakeholders in the SW Waterfront and Capitol Riverfront neighborhoods have been involved as well.

Here is a quick summary of the larger planning issues that a collaborative group of DC Departments is addressing:

  • Site Assembly – the DC Government is responsible for acquiring all the property necessary for the stadium footprint, and for the necessary road networks. An environmentally clean and infrastructure ready site is to be delivered to DC United for the stadium construction.
  • Environmental Assessment & Remediation – as a former industrial site for numerous uses, there has been environmental contamination of the soil and underground water table. The site must be tested and evaluated as to the levels and extent of the contamination, then a remediation and removal plan developed and implemented.
  • Utility Assessment & Upgrades – the existing utility systems and their locations – water, sewer, electrical, gas, cable, fiber optic, etc. – must be identified and their capacity for future development evaluated. In all likelihood, many new or upgraded utilities will have to be installed in conjunction with new street construction in order to support the infrastructure needs of the stadium and future  development.
  • Planning for Accessibility – a new stadium will attract over 20,000 fans at capacity, and there will not be huge parking lots in the neighborhood to accommodate visitors and their cars. DDOT and  OP are looking at the best ways to get fans from the Metro stations at Waterfront and Navy Yard/Ballpark to the stadium, while also evaluating other transit alternatives. 
  • Coordination with the South Capitol Street Bridge – in all probability the stadium will open before the South Capitol Street Bridge is finished, so coordination must ensure that that project does not impact access and the experience of arriving at the soccer stadium. It is hoped that the proposed Memorial Ellipse’s construction can be coordinated to coincide with the construction of the soccer stadium.
  • Planning for Environmental Sustainability –  DDOE is evaluating storm water management tactics, as well as the possibility of establishing an ecodistrict for the Buzzard Point neighborhood.
  • Planning for an Open Space Network – OP is evaluating opportunities for larger sidewalks that would serve as linear green spaces, how we can accommodate smaller “pocket” parks, the character of the civic space outside the stadium, and how the pedestrian network ties into an extension of the riverwalk trail to Buzzard Point and the Wharf project. 
  • Framework Plan for Buzzard Point – OP is coordinating a framework plan for Buzzard Point that will guide all future public and private investment and development according to a vision established for the neighborhood. It is examining many of the elements discussed above, as well as land use mixes and densities, and an overall implementation schedule.
  • Stadium Planning & Design – this will be the responsibility of DC United with input from the DC Government. A 20,000+ seat stadium with related facilities must be designed to fit the site but also relate to the context of the larger neighborhood. The soccer stadium should be functional and aesthetically pleasing for Buzzard Point. 

Impact of the Stadium on the Neighborhood

But what does a soccer stadium mean for Buzzard Point, the SW Waterfront, Capitol Riverfront and the city at large? I believe that there will be numerous benefits from the DC United Stadium being located in Buzzard Point beyond the team remaining in the District. The soccer stadium will serve to “bridge the gap” in development that occurs along the rapidly developing waterfront in SE/SW Washington. This waterfront stretches from the Fish Market in SW to beyond the Sousa Bridge and the Anacostia Boathouse in SE. This approximately four-mile stretch of Anacostia River and Washington Channel waterfront is being redefined with new development, parks and open spaces, a riverwalk trail, and marinas. But a gap in continuous waterfront experience occurs at Ft. McNair and Buzzard Point. The soccer stadium and future private development can serve to “bridge that gap” and connect neighborhoods.

The new DC United Soccer Stadium will serve as an anchor for Buzzard Point, and leverage new private development and additional public investment to connect this part of the waterfront back to the city and the neighborhoods of SW and SE. The aforementioned Buzzard Point Framework Plan is proposing how all the pieces fit together so that they are mutually reinforcing and accelerate private development in compatible ways. From streets and utilities to land uses and open spaces, the Framework Plan will serve as a guide to future development for the city and private developers alike.

A well designed and multi-purpose soccer stadium will invite a variety of uses, user groups, and visitors to the site. Imagine a stadium that hosts not only DC United, but also a variety of sports events played at the high school and college levels – football, lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer games. It can also host concerts, outdoor movies, and other community events. The quality of the field must always be protected, but the more activities at the stadium the better.

The Framework Plan envisions a mix of uses including residential, office, retail, and parks. The stadium will be the “first-in” land use, and as such will establish an activity anchor that will attract other uses. This will not happen overnight – think three to five years before significant new development starts to occur – but it will come,  as this will be an urban neighborhood with waterfront access. It is also positioned between the two rapidly growing areas of the Capitol Riverfront and SW Waterfront. The Buzzard Point area is within the boundaries of the Capitol Riverfront BID, the last section to undergo redevelopment and transition from industrial uses. The soccer stadium has the ability to accelerate that new growth, as well as the advantages of proximity to the river, Nationals Park, the Yards development, and the Wharf project.

The soccer stadium can also lead to the completion of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail System around Buzzard Point from the Capitol Riverfront to the Wharf. This combination of the stadium, new development and a new segment of the riverwalk trail will truly “bridge the gap” between SE and SW and connect the Capitol Riverfront to the SW Waterfront.

The new South Capitol Street Bridge and Memorial Ellipse will also be significant public investments that will serve to reinforce access to the “stadium district” and start to further define the quality of the public realm. A well designed ellipse can serve as a home for future memorials and partner with both stadiums to create a gateway effect to this side of the city.

Mayor Bowser, the Gray administration, the DC Council, various city agencies, the City Administrator, DC United, and numerous other public and private stakeholders are to be commended for creating the public/private partnership that will keep DC United in the District for years to come. The idea of a new soccer stadium, and the financial deal to support it, have resulted in an impact project for a semi-forgotten area of the city. It is resulting in good coordination, city planning, and economic development that will transform Buzzard Point into a mixed-use urban neighborhood with a multi-purpose soccer stadium and new access to the waterfront. 

Michael Stevens, AICP is President of the Capitol Riverfront BID.