In 2012, when Jason Levien bought his chunk of D.C. United, he’d often talk about wielding a machete to cut through the red tape that had kept the club from finding a new home for nearly a decade.
On Monday, he traded that machete for a pair of giant, golden scissors.
Levien, United’s managing partner and chief executive, was joined by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a number of soccer dignitaries, fans, and press in front of Audi Field for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the club’s new home on Buzzard Point in Southwest D.C.
“Today is the day we’ve been waiting for,” Levien said from behind a lectern emblazoned with D.C. United’s crest. “It’s a landmark day in a landmark year for D.C. sports. It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of what today represents.”
The event had all the hallmarks that ribbon-cutting ceremonies share—the giant scissors, the schoolchildren in matching shirts, the crop of local politicians basking in the glow of a completed project. Everyone marinated in sweat under the summer sun as speakers rambled on about the stadium and what it could mean for the District. Audi Field is in “D.C.’s hottest neighborhood,” Levien quipped, wiping his brow. “In more ways than one.”
Bowser took the podium next. “Welcome to Audi Field!” she said with her usual zeal. “Isn’t she lovely?”
The facility, which cost the city and club a reported $400 million, certainly appeals to United’s fan base, a sight for sore eyes after spending two decades dodging falling concrete at RFK Stadium.
Others followed Bowser: MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the crowd about a visit to RFK in 1999 that assured him soccer could thrive in this country. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen praised United for their community outreach efforts. And Ward 2’s Jack Evans delivered an over-eager address that promised, among other things, that United would bring back the “World Soccer Cup” to the District, guided by their $13-million-dollar man, Wayne Rooney.
“I think we all knew what he meant,” a smiling Rooney told the press in attendance after the event. There is, of course, no World Soccer Cup that D.C. United can win. Just an MLS Cup.
Monday’s ceremony served not only as a celebration, but also a bit of an open house. After the proceedings ended, fans and media poured through a gate in the stadium’s northwest corner to get their first glimpse.
They were confined to a corner of the concourse, only able to get a brief look at the playing field and seating area just outside an entrance portal. Cherry pickers and heavy equipment dotted the grounds, while a few dozen construction workers continued putting the finishing touches on the east side of the stadium. Offices and storefronts alike sit empty just days before the opener.
Crews have been working furiously to ready the venue for its debut on Saturday, and a permit was granted late in June to extend construction hours until as late as 11 p.m. Still, there is much work to be done.
A worker chuckled when asked about the time crunch. “Nos queda mucho,” he said, a paver in one hand. “There’s a lot left to do.” Behind him, crows picked at grass seed in what will eventually become green space. At the moment, it looks barren.
This time crunch isn’t uncommon. Orlando City Stadium, home of Orlando City SC, opened with bathrooms that were barely functional. It’s now considered one of the league’s premier venues. Other facilities have struggled with their own issues—long lines at entrance points, ticketing hiccups and the like.
Most in attendance on Monday didn’t seem to care whether Audi Field will be 100 percent complete by the weekend. The fact that it’s a reality at all, well, that can be hard to comprehend for some observers of the team who’ve waited decades for this.
“[It’s] a little bit [surreal],” United head coach Ben Olsen told City Paper. “I think this weekend will smack us all in the face. I can’t wait. Right now, it’s a great new shiny building and it’s ours. But for me, until you put the people in here that matter—my staff and the players and the fans that have been waiting for this for a long time, and you feel that energy—that’s the moment I’m waiting for.”
Olsen went on to say that even during some early tours of the site, when earth movers had started to clear the way for the stadium itself, he wondered if the building would ever come to be. “We’ve been through so much to get this over the line. And you’re still [like], ‘Is this really gonna go down?’ And then you see the steel go up, and the bones, and that’s when it becomes reality.”
“In our business, we learn to never say never,” Garber told City Paper amid a crush of media. “But I will say that there were times when we wondered when ‘ever’ would be.
Ever, as it turns out, is this Saturday.