City Paper is not for tourists
There is not (yet) a proposal to bring the Washington football team back to the District. Otherwise, just about every possible D.C. stadium proposition has been floated this year. It started (and, opponents of publicly financed sports arenas hope, might end) with the grand plan for a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. The proposal had it all: a new municipal center in Anacostia, a residential development on U Street NW, a Pepco substation on K Street NW, land swaps far too complicated for any normal human to comprehend, and—oh yeah—also a place to play soccer.
Many members of the D.C. Council and the public thought it had too much. Councilmembers Jim Graham, Tommy Wells, and Marion Barry all took issue with the trade of the Frank D. Reeves Center to a private developer: Graham because he feared more luxury apartments on U Street, Wells because he wanted affordable housing to be required, and Barry because he didn’t want to lose the Reeves building that bears his name on its facade (until, that is, he learned that it would move to his Ward 8). Then there were transportation concerns, doubts about the generous tax breaks showered on the team, and fears that D.C. wasn’t getting a good deal through the land swaps (borne out by a November Council-commissioned report finding that the city was getting the short end of the stick to the tune of more than $25 million). Plus, with so much complexity, there were hidden problems no one mentioned, like the fact that the land being given to Pepco for the substation was already slated for a major affordable-housing initiative.
Ultimately, one person’s concerns mattered more than the rest. Two weeks after being elected mayor, Muriel Bowser announced that she would pass the stadium deal by year’s end—without a Reeves Center swap. Now the city may have to resort to eminent domain to acquire some of the land needed (D.C. will assemble the land while the team funds the actual construction), a potentially lengthy and costly process. The land acquisition remains unsettled, but Bowser, Mayor Vince Gray, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson struck a deal last week to finance the stadium plan. The measure passed the Council this week. At least the money’s there, if the land isn’t.
Whatever skepticism the D.C. United plans aroused was nothing next to the reaction to news of a possible Washington Wizards practice facility in Shaw. Neighbors were furious that the facility could displace a skate park and basketball court at 11th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW. Good-government types balked at the tens of millions of dollars the District would front for the project, to be paid back through a Wizards ticket surtax. And logicians questioned the argument from Gray and team owner Ted Leonsis that a D.C.-based facility would encourage players to move to the city, when the team already practices at the Verizon Center, very much within city limits.
But critics of the practice-facility proposal probably don’t have to worry for now. City officials were surprised by news coverage of the facility, given that talks haven’t progressed at all this year and the plan is still very hypothetical. Many Shaw residents are surely hoping that Leonsis ultimately settles on one of the other two leading contenders for the facility, Crystal City and Ballston.
Of course, all of this is small beans compared to the granddaddy of all stadium prospects. In announcing her intentions for the D.C. United deal last month, Bowser said she didn’t want to stop there. “Then,” she said, “we’ll be able to do another big thing: host the Summer Olympics in the District of Columbia.” That far-fetched idea got a lot less far-fetched in June, when D.C. was named one of four U.S. contenders to host the 2024 games. Should the District emerge on top, we’d likely get an Olympic Stadium at the RFK site and an Olympic Village nearby, with potential satellite venues at the Southwest Waterfront, Hains Point, and the D.C. Armory. Why stop at a soccer stadium fight when you can have a natatorium one, too?