By: Victoria Jones
With seven months remaining before Mayor Vincent Gray leaves office Jan. 2, Gray plans on getting on one of his main priorities done: consummating a $300 million deal to build a new stadium for the D.C. United soccer team in Buzzard Point, an industrial patch of Southwest Washington.
Since his lost in the April 1 primary, lawmakers have been cutting funding and dismantling most of Gray’s priorities and major plans, which includes Gray’s plan on a new full-service hospital proposed to replace the only existing hospital east of the Anacostia River, and a $3.1 billion, 37-mile streetcar system.
While the D.C. stadium has supporters, many doubt whether Gray as a lame duck can get the deal approved in his final months in office. In order to get the soccer stadium deal done and secure a legacy for his single term as mayor, Gray will have to navigate through political obstacles that include concerns about the deal’s structure, pressure from advocacy groups and the fact that his two potential successors will be weighing in during a general election campaign.
With the council’s summer recess approaching, lawmakers appear to be in no rush to act on the deal.
The biggest political issue with the soccer stadium is Gray’s plan to pay for the District’s share of the deal. Gray wants to trade off the Frank D. Reeves Center, a city office building at 14th and U streets NW, to the developer Akridge in return for land it owns on the stadium site and about $37 million in cash.
The funds for the construction for the soccer stadium will come from a mixture of sources. D.C. United has already stated that they will pay about $140 million for the construction of the stadium. D.C. taxpayers will fund about $120 million to buy the land on Buzzard Point and to pay for improvements on the site. The deal will also include about $40 million in tax breaks to lower D.C. United’s cost of operating for the stadium for the first decade.
The land on Buzzard point that the city needs to build the city is owned by the developer Akridge. In order for Akridge to sell that land, Mayor Gray has agreed to sell the block-long Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW for $55.6 million. According to the property’s most recent assessment by the city’s independent chief financial officer, the price Gray is selling it for is $17 million its suggested value.
Assuming that the building would be demolished, city administrator Allen Y. Lew said the price is a measure of the land’s usable value. Three appraisers — one from the city, one from Akridge and another chosen by the two — agreed on the price.
Gray’s team hopes that the council will hold an initial vote for the stadium plan and land deals before the council adjourns for summer recess on July 15. If a deal cannot be made by then, the stadium plan will come up for a first vote in the fall — right during the middle of the mayoral race between two sitting council members: Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David A. Catania (I-At Large).
Council member Jack Evans believes that hearing can be held and committee members can vote before the summer recess and set up the deal for final votes during the fall.
“I think the prospects are good,” Evans said. “The deal that the mayor has sent down is a doable deal.”
During the heart of the deal, the District agreed to pay several properties on Buzzard Point in exchange for cash and property elsewhere. The deal will value two acres of stadium land owned by Akridge at $21.2 million, while the company pays the balance of the $55.6 million price to obtain the Reeves Center.
Lew agreed to a similar deal with Pepco, which also owns land in Buzzard Point. Pepco would acquire city-owned land neat the Walker-Jones Education Campus off North Capitol Street, which is current a community garden, in a cash and land deal. The city would then gain a decommissioned Pepco facility on Buzzard Point.
The city property is assessed at $128.5 million for the current year. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer recently estimated that the building was worth about $73 million. However, a 2011 CFO report found that it could be worth as much as $186 million.
Gray sent authorizing legislation to the council, before some of the details of the deal were committed to writing.
Gray and Lew believe that the stadium will boost revitalization in the Nationals Park and South Capitol Street Bridge area, which is being rebuilt. Instead of the Reeves Center, the U Street corridor will gain new mixed-property use. The city employees there now will move to a new building in Anacostia that could then generate development in that area as well, an area that has the worst unemployment rate in the city.
Some council members have already begun voicing support for the deal, which includes Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who chairs the finance committee; Marion Barry (D-Ward 8); David Grosso (I-At Large); and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who represents Southwest.
However, Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) have expressed concerns about losing municipal offices that are a symbol of the city’s role in the civil rights struggle. The Reeves Center was one of the first major new buildings to be built after the 1968 riots.
Graham said that he feared the loss of hundreds of daytime employees and thousands of visitors to city offices. He also wonders what effects it can have U Street retailers who benefit from Reeves workers’ daytime spending.
During her successful run for the Democratic nomination, Bowser was also highly critical of the land swap saying that she rather sees capital improvement dollars go to schools than a soccer stadium.