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The Washington Post headline sounds damning: “Six in 10 oppose Gray’s plan for funding D.C. United stadium.” A recent poll, the story reports, found that “public opinion is running strongly against one of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s highest-profile initiatives, financing a new stadium for the D.C. United pro soccer team.”
But Gray’s top spokesman argues that story’s headline and main argument are misleading, because the poll question didn’t really reflect what the Gray administration has proposed.
“The poll question is, do you support public financing for a stadium in general?” says spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. “Not even the mayor supports that, because what the mayor has proposed is not public financing for a stadium.”
Here’s what he’s talking about: Under the tentative deal between the city and D.C. United, the details of which are still being ironed out, the soccer team will foot the full bill for the new stadium at Buzzard Point. The city will assemble the land required to build the stadium, and will complete infrastructure work like realigning the surrounding streets.
But if and when the team moves away, the land will remain the city’s, and whatever appreciation the soccer stadium and the accompanying development will generate would benefit the city.
The question on the Post poll was worded: “Generally speaking, do you favor or oppose using city funds to help finance a new soccer stadium for the District’s Major League Soccer team, D.C. United?” Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they opposed it; 35 percent approved.
The question isn’t strictly speaking wrong, since city funds will go toward realizing the stadium project. And there are plenty of reasons not mentioned why people might question the deal, including the complicated land swaps that are likely to see the city giving up the valuable Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center site on U Street NW. But as the question is phrased, respondents would be forgiven for thinking that the stadium would be built with city money—-as, for example, Nationals Park was last decade.
Speaking of Nationals Park: The Post poll found that more than 70 percent of Washingtonians now approve of the city’s $650 million investment to build that stadium. But compare that to a Post poll from 2004, in which only four in 10 respondents backed the city’s big expenditure on the stadium. That looks awfully similar to public opinion on the D.C. United deal now.
Granted, soccer is not America’s pastime, and the D.C. United stadium may not spark as much fan interest or neighborhood development as Nationals Park did. But there’s plenty of reason to think that the Post poll doesn’t really mean that the D.C. United deal, as proposed by the Gray administration, will be unpopular in the long run—-or even that it’s as unpopular now as the Post story would have you believe.
Rendering from the Office of the City Administrator