In her first major policy move as mayor-elect of the District, Muriel Bowser pledged to push the controversial proposal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point through the D.C. Council before taking office in January—-but without a key component of the deal, the plan to trade away the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center.
Speaking before a who’s-who crowd of D.C. politicos at a meeting of the Federal City Council tonight, Bowser unequivocally stated her intention to proceed with plans to build a United stadium in the industrial wasteland that’s currently Buzzard Point. “I want to be very clear about this,” she told her audience, which included two former mayors and several of the key players in the stadium deal. “I support building a soccer stadium in the District of Columbia, and I support investing public dollars to get it done.”
But Bowser also committed to removing a contested element of the deal, a land swap that would trade the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW to developer Akridge in exchange for land Akridge owns at Buzzard Point. A recent study commissioned by the D.C. Council suggested that the city would be overpaying in this swap and related ones, and some members of the public and the Council, including Bowser, have questioned whether it might be more fiscally prudent to sell the Reeves Center on the open market instead.
Bowser said tonight that she would “make sure that we are reducing the District’s risks by de-linking the Reeves Center from the deal.”
That’s sure to upset Akridge, which has urged the Council to pass the deal as is. And given that Bowser pledged to complete the deal by year’s end—-“I don’t think anybody wants to restart this conversation in January,” she said—-Akridge would gain tremendous leverage to charge a higher price for its Buzzard Point land, potentially canceling out some of the economic benefits that might come from tackling Reeves separately. Administration officials have also stated concerns that taking on new debt to purchase the Buzzard Point land rather than trading for it could put the city dangerously close to its debt cap.
Bowser said she’ll be assisted in her efforts by attorney Mark Tuohey. As former chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, Tuohey helped bring the Nationals to D.C.; he’s also worked for Ken Starr and represented Jeanne Clark Harris, who admitted to a role in the alleged shadow campaign to help elect Mayor Vince Gray. Tuohey also briefly ran for attorney general this year before dropping out in July.
“People call me practical,” Bowser told the crowd, “because I don’t promise things I can’t deliver.” That characterization will quickly be tested, with less than a month and a half to restructure the stadium deal and guide it to Council passage.
But Bowser’s ambitions didn’t stop with the stadium deal. “Then,” she said, “we’ll be able to do another big thing: host the Summer Olympics in the District of Columbia.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery