Could this block the stadium deal? Probably not.
Could this block the stadium deal? Probably not.

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WAMU’s Patrick Madden has caused a stir this morning with his report that one of the property owners at Buzzard Point, the Super Salvage scrapyard, may be unwilling to move in order to make way for a D.C. United soccer stadium. The city is responsible for assembling the necessary land at Buzzard Point for a stadium as part of the deal negotiated with the team and other Buzzard Point property owners. And if the facility won’t move, Madden writes, the deal “might be sent to the scrap heap.”

There’s some confusion as to who, exactly, owns the scrapyard. City records say it’s Super Salvage; so does Super Salvage’s owner. But investor and Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein bought an option on the property in 2005, and most reporting so far has treated the property as his. Tony Robinson, spokesman for City Administrator Allen Lew, who negotiated the deal on the city’s behalf, says the city’s treating Super Salvage as the owner.

Super Salvage Chief Financial Officer Bob Bullock, who told Madden that the scrapyard would be reluctant to move, says that since he talked to Madden, he learned that the company’s president has a “close relationship” with Ein and would likely be willing to sell the property to him.

“I think, having received a lot of money from Mark, we probably would feel very good about picking up the threads of that prior relationship,” Bullock says, referring to renewing the option, which he says expired several years ago. “I don’t think that we would turn him down.”

But ultimately, from the perspective of the stadium, the ownership of the scrapyard doesn’t really matter. Because if Super Salvage won’t move willingly, the city will take the property by eminent domain.

“Ultimately the city will exercise eminent domain to acquire any pieces we can’t acquire,” Lew told me in a recent interview. Lew says he’d prefer not to use eminent domain, but will resort to it if the city can’t find another way to assemble all the property.

It wouldn’t be the first time the city used eminent domain to build a stadium. In 2005, the city seized property from 16 landowners to build Nationals Park. The stadium opened in 2008, although the lawsuits dragged on until 2009. Presumably, seizing property from a single owner at Buzzard Point would be a simpler process, allowing the stadium progress to move forward even if the legal disputes continued.

“We have a really, really tight schedule,” said Lew, referring to the deadlines laid out in the term sheet he signed with D.C. United. “We can’t afford a two-year delay. It would throw everything off.”

So while the ownership of that parcel will affect the tenor of the negotiations, it’s unlikely to affect its ultimate outcome. A scrapyard probably can’t stand in the way of one of the biggest development deals the city’s ever seen.

Update 1:55 p.m.: Lew said at a press conference this morning, “At one point, we were under the impression that Mark Ein controlled that site. And it turned out his option had expired.” Thanks to my excellent colleague Will Sommer, who was present at the press conference.