DC United Stadium on Buzzard Point is a Go

South By West

The new DC United stadium will be located blocks from Nationals Park on Buzzard Point.  Rendering courtesy of DC United

The DC Council unanimously approved the District of Columbia Soccer Stadium Act of 2014 on second reading at their final legislative meeting of the year on December 17, which sets things in motion toward building a new stadium for DC United at 2nd and R streets SW on Buzzard Point. If things go as planned, the stadium will begin construction before the end of 2015 and will open in time for the 2017 Major League Soccer (MLS) season. The city will use a combination of borrowing, a land swap, and a reshuffling of funds from the fiscal year 2015 budget to pay for its portion of the stadium, which covers land acquisition, environmental remediation and infrastructure improvements. One obstacle that is still left is how the city will acquire a two-acre parcel in the stadium footprint owned by DC-based developer Akridge. Since the land swap for the Reeves Center has been removed from the legislation, the city will need to purchase the parcel, by eminent domain if necessary. 

How Buzzard Point Was Chosen

The road leading to this vote was a long one. Chatter about DC United’s interest in the Buzzard Point neighborhood first surfaced during the Great Recession in 2009, after plans to build a stadium at Poplar Point fell apart. DC United has been looking for a new home for nearly a decade; the team currently plays at RFK Stadium, an aging multipurpose venue that lacks the intimacy or upgrades that are found in modern soccer-specific stadiums. The team eyed Akridge’s 100 V Street parcel on Buzzard Point as a potential stadium location, as well as others across the city. At the time, Akridge was marketing the nine-acre site as a secure office complex for a federal tenant, but there was little interest from office tenants. Then in 2011, a land swap was proposed with Akridge for their site, but not for a soccer stadium – it was to swap land in Hill East that houses the DC Jail for the 100 V Street parcel to build a new jail; however, this proposal never moved beyond the discussion phase. 

Ultimately Buzzard Point won out over the other sites. Mayor Gray and DC United team owner Jason Levien signed a term sheet in July of 2013 to locate a new, 20,000-seat stadium on a portion of the 100 V Street parcel on Buzzard Point. Other landowners in the stadium footprint include Pepco, Super Salvage, and Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein. The cost of the stadium would be the most expensive in MLS history. In the agreement, the city would contribute about $150 million for land acquisition and infrastructure improvements while the team would pay $150 million to build the stadium. In addition to the stadium, the team plans to eventually build a hotel and some retail space within the stadium footprint. Legislation was introduced to the Council last spring and a series of hearings were held over the summer and early fall. Some components of the deal announced last year have changed, including the Reeves Center land swap and some of the tax incentives offered to the team, but most of the deal’s original terms have remained intact. 

Community Benefits Part of the Package

Community benefits were added to the Council legislation at the behest of the Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC) and other local organizations. For instance, $4.9 million in operating dollars from the fiscal year 2015 budget will be provided to restore the Convention Center – Southwest Waterfront Circulator route (earlier than the fiscal year 2020 estimate in DDOT’s DC Circulator Transit Development Plan), but the route will be extended south into Buzzard Point. Funding was already in place to extend the Navy Yard – Union Station route into Southwest in fiscal year 2015. Although streetcar routes are planned to eventually serve Buzzard Point, the Circulator will bring transit to the area sooner and funding for expanding the streetcar network are in limbo. The city will also provide $121,000 for a workforce intermediary to connect residents of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D with employment opportunities during construction of the stadium and for the first two years of operations. 

In addition, $250,000 will be provided to renovate the Randall Recreation Center building and provide programming beyond 2015 since funding was set to run out for programming on September 30, 2015. Outgoing Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells also expressed his commitment during Council proceedings to preserve the mix of affordable housing in the area near the stadium and if any redevelopment of those communities were to proceed, a "one-to-one" replacement of the affordable units should be achieved. A separate Community Benefits Agreement was signed with DC United, including summer jobs for local youth, United Soccer Club programming at local schools, scholarships for soccer day camps, free tickets for local youth, meeting space and use of the stadium for community events, among other things. 

What About Akridge?

While it appears that Akridge got the raw end of the deal by not getting the Reeves Center in the land swap, most of the news from the Council meeting was good for the developer, which might help smooth the way for the city get the Buzzard Point land without the need for eminent domain. Akridge will likely get more money for the Buzzard Point land than it would have received in the land swap, since the price per square foot that Pepco and Super Salvage have agreed to receive for their parcels is higher than the previously agreed amount between the city and Akridge during the land swap negotiations. After Akridge sells its two-acre parcel for the stadium, it will still have seven acres just to the south of the new stadium. Multifamily and hotel uses may be planned for the site, but Akridge has not made their intentions public yet. On the same day that the soccer stadium deal was approved, a separate deal was approved by the Council for Akridge to renovate the historic Stevens School in the West End for a special needs school and will allow the developer to build an office building on adjacent land. 

A New Buzzard Point

This largely industrial section of Southwest will likely be transformed as a result of the stadium. An Urban Design Framework draft for Buzzard Point released by the Office of Planning over the summer will inform and guide public and private development decisions in the area for the next 10 years. The new stadium’s location, less than three blocks southwest of Nationals Park, will facilitate the creation of a stadium district in the area, since Potomac Avenue will link the stadia. There is the potential for over 10 million square feet of development on Buzzard Point, including up to 4,000 residential units, a maritime museum, marinas, and an esplanade along the Anacostia River. One day, Buzzard Point will look completely different than it does now, but in the meantime before the stadium is built, DC United will need to go before the Zoning Commission in 2015 to get approval for the design approval. 

William Rich is a blogger at Southwest…The Little Quatrant That Could.