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To supporters of the deal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, there’s just one number that’s needed to justify the embattled plan: 109 million.
A D.C. Council–commissioned study of the deal, which involves complex land swaps to allow the city to assemble the stadium site, found that the city would come out $25 million short by overpaying for the land it’s acquiring and receiving too little for the land it’s trading. But stadium backers focused on a different number from the report, which found that the overall economic benefit to the city of the stadium plan would be $109 million.
“In a nutshell, it’s bettter to do it,” Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans said at a Nov. 5 Council hearing. “The city will be better off by $109 million.”
“Whether the Soccer Stadium transaction will generate $172 million in net new fiscal revenue to the District, as we estimate, or $109.4 million as the [report’s authors] estimate, in either case, the transaction will result in net fiscal benefits and is good for the District and its residents,” said City Administrator Allen Lew, who negotiated the deal on the city’s behalf, in his written testimony at the hearing.
“We think this study absolutely validates this deal,” D.C. United chief operating officer Tom Hunt told me recently. “As a business person, how do you look at the notion of $110 million and say it’s not a good deal?”
The answer is: by looking at a different figure—-and a more accurate one.
On Thursday, the authors of the report—-Conventions, Sports and Leisure International, Integra Realty Resources, and the Robert Bobb Group—-sent a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson clarifying that $109 million figure. The trouble is, that number includes the funds generated by trading away the land the city already owns. In other words, it’s not really new revenue; it’s just monetization of existing assets. That false profit, coming out to $71.4 million, makes up the majority of the $109 million figure.
“Therefore,” the authors wrote to Mendelson, “the net benefits to the District are estimated to be between $17.6 million and $38.0 million.”
The larger of those two numbers assumes the District contributes $131 million to the stadium project cost. (The team is paying for the actual construction of the stadium, while the city is assembling the land and providing the infrastructure.) If the city’s costs come out to $150 million, the maximum allowed under the cap established in the stadium deal, the city’s net benefit will be just $17.6 million.
That’s a narrow profit in a deal that has some stadium critics concerned about cost overruns, despite the presence of the cap. Stadium backers, in turn, argue that these figures don’t account for auxiliary benefits through nearby development at Buzzard Point that will generate more tax revenue.
But the authors’ clarification makes clear that the profitability of the scheme depends entirely on the 200-room hotel that’s proposed near the stadium. The hotel would bring an estimated $70.5 million to the city. That means that if plans for the hotel fall through, the project would become deeply unprofitable for the District.
“If you look at it you realize the only profit center in the entire project is the hotel,” Mendelson told me recently. “That’s not to say we shouldn’t do the stadium. But the executive’s first line is, this is going to bring all this money to the city.”
City officials are reportedly looking into options that would not involve the largest component of the land swaps, the trade of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW to the developer Akridge. That would surely raise fierce objections from Akridge, which owns some of the land the city needs at Buzzard Point, and could also complicate efforts to avoid incurring new debt under the city’s fragile debt cap. But with all the factors at play, the odds of getting this deal passed by year’s end, as the administration and the team have requested, are looking quite a bit slimmer.
The letter is below:
Rendering from D.C. United