Greater Greater Washington

Soccer land swap could solve problems for DC and United

DC United has been trying to build a new stadium using its own funds for years. A proposed land swap for a parcel at Buzzard Point could help them get one while the District grows its tax base, increases its housing supply, and improves city services at little cost to taxpayers.


Buzzard Point today. Photo by Stephen Whiting.

City officials are currently talking with DC United and developer Akridge about swapping some empty parcels of land at Buzzard Point for government-owned properties around the city, like the Reeves Center near 14th & U streets. In return, Akridge would build a new public safety campus elsewhere in the city and DC United would get the land at Buzzard Point for a stadium.

While other uses have been considered for Buzzard Point in the past, putting a new DC United stadium there would be the best use of that land, while opening up other properties around the city that are better suited for housing or commercial activities.

The current Metropolitan Police Department headquarters at Judiciary Square is outdated and needs to be replaced. It's in such poor shape that MPD employees would have to move somewhere else if the building were renovated.

Meanwhile, the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the Department of Corrections are temporarily moving from their obsolete facilities on Vermont Avenue to the Reeves Center. All three government agencies are in need of new permanent headquarters, but the catch is that there are currently no funds allocated to building them.

Slate business and economics correspondent Matt Yglesias recently argued that this site should be used for affordable housing instead. While he's right that DC needs more housing, the Buzzard Point site doesn't make sense for housing under current market conditions. Akridge bought the land that currently sits idle as a parking lot in 2005. They hoped to build an office building but the GSA refused to lease space there, saying the 15-minute walk from the Navy Yard Metro was too far.

There was a residential construction boom when Akridge bought the land in 2005, and there's one happening now due to limited supply and high rents. If they thought that they could sell or rent new homes there, they would have already done so. The Buzzard Point site is a vacant parking lot because there simply isn't enough economic incentive to build there.

If DC United moved to Buzzard Point, the land would become more valuable, much like the Capitol Riverfront after Nationals Park opened. The District could gain tax revenue from surrounding vacant properties as they were developed. Now in private hands, the highly valuable properties at Judiciary Square and 14th and U could also raise tax revenue for the city.

This gives DC more funds that could be used for affordable housing programs. Meanwhile, the market rate housing supply would increase due to new residential buildings at 14th and U and Buzzard Point. (The Judiciary Square site would presumably be used for commercial uses.)

The increase in housing supply would help stabilize rents. Individual buildings may not do much to stabilize rising rents, since they are only a small part of the new supply needed to meet demand. However, every little bit counts.

While the District of Columbia needs more market rate and affordable housing, it can accomplish those goals without throwing around money to induce development where there's no demand for it. Perhaps that was the only option available to our forebears in the second half of the 20th century, but the present situation is different with a growing, desirable city and private investors like Akridge and DC United falling all over themselves to invest in the District of Columbia.

It appears that the District government understands the present circumstances and is negotiating to indirectly use this private investment to improve city services, increase its tax base, and increase its housing supply without having to issue debt that would affect its bond rating. That's exactly how a growing city should operate.

Disclosure: I'm a member of the Barra Brava, an iconic independent DC United supporters' group.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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Not surprisingly, there is very little vocal opposition to even the "idea" of a sports facility (soccer) inside the city.

Now compare that to the nondiscussions of a football training facility where people literally lost their minds in sheer apoplexia.

by HogWash on May 7, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

Why should DC taxpayers subsidize a soccer stadium for wealthy owners? What public purpose is served?

by Tom M on May 7, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

Hogwash,

That's because in this scenario DC gets the land around RFK to use to create new neighborhoods and a whole new section of the city. That is more preferable than a training facility that sees little use.

by drumz on May 7, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

This seems like it could potentially work out well for everybody, but I'm wondering how the math adds up.

There's no way that an empty parcel at Buzzard Point is worth half as much as the Reves Center and MPD Headquarters. I'm skeptical that this would be a better deal (for the city) than it would be to just buy and sell the parcels in question at market value. The city would need to do some serious diligence to make sure that this doesn't turn into a sweetheart deal for Akridge.

IMO, the worthiness of the deal would need to revolve around the facilities that Akridge would be constructing to replace the ones it'd be taking over -- DC United's parcel might be the impetus for this deal, but it should really be a footnote in the city's deliberations over whether or not it's a good idea. I like the idea of putting DC United at Buzzard Point, but don't like the idea of moving so many public employees out of downtown transit-accessible work locations.

The Reves Center sucks, but the gentrification of the U St corridor is completely out of control.

by andrew on May 7, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

If the city does move forward this (and on balance I am more likely to support it than not), it should secure some set asides for using the facility for certain things, so that the place doesn't just lie fallow 300 days out of the year.

Having said that, it is worth reminding everyone that these stadiums also contain team offices, so they are indeed occupied and used year-round to some extent. They could even have other programmable space built into them, although the ones in Nats Park have apparently had some issues with finding good tenants.

Still, the key is to make this as much of a community amenity as possible. Also, to trade Pajoy and Carloz Ruiz for whoever will take them and find some strikers capable of putting the ball on frame more than once a month.

by Dizzy on May 7, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

This is an interesting idea but there are still a lot of details I don't understand.

What happens to the Reeves building and its occupants?

Is the plan that the City will lease the building back from Akridge? Or that Akridge will also be creating space elsewhere for employees currently in the Reeves building? Will that new space be transit accessible?

If there are to be no DC Govt Employees in the Reeves Center what happens to the building once Akridge owns it? Will it be renovated and remain as office space? Or torn down? Doesn't it make sense for some commercial office space to remain on U Street?

What about the new Public Safety Campus? Will DC own this space or be leasing it from Akridge or whoever owns it? Will it be in a transit friendly location? Should it be?

Relatedly does it make sense for the current MPD headquarters to be in a transit rich location or are all employees driving (and parking illegally given the chaotic state of affairs on the streets in that area) so it could be a net increase in transit use if that site is converted to a different use?

As far as smart growth and thoughtful land use and costs this could be a great deal, an ok deal or a terrible one but I'm not sure we have enough information to make an assessment yet?

And in any case do we believe the City (I assume DMPED) is up to the task of negotiating a fair and sensible deal?

by TomQ on May 7, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

Cavan is making a noble effort to make this seem like a good deal for the city, but any time a new sports stadium, a developer, and the city government are mentioned in the same proposal, tax payers are about to get screwed.

by Jon M. on May 7, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

I personally am opposed to any large sports facility in the city that isn't 100% paid for by the team. Land is too valuable to be giving away for something that's not a concrete public service.

by Alan B. on May 7, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

Building sports arenas in urban settings is almost always a bad deal for urbanism and for taxpayers.

This one really stinks. Obviously the new stadium would be tax-exempt. The extremely valuable sites swapped for it would probably be given tax-exemption for the foreseeable future.

by Tom Coumaris on May 7, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

@ Tom C.

For taxpayers, perhaps.

I call BS on the first statement as being overbroad. What case would you make against the Verizon Center revitalizing Penn Quarter? This is a place I actually now visit on days games are not happening. How is that bad for urbanism?

As for the Ballpark district, that is also now a place I visit on non-game days, mostly because of the fabulous new Yards Park. Having another stadium located nearby will only create even more momentum for new urban development.

by fongfong on May 7, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

@TomQ, a lot of the non-MPD folks who work in the MPD HQ building use transit. Not all, but a lot. Public Health is housed there, as are some CSOSA functions (specifically the drug lab, but I think there's a few others as well). There's some additional court-related functions in that building as well.

I know the CSOSA lab (currently occupying space on the 1st and 6th floors at MPD HQ) has been actively searching for new space for a while now. Because they're technically a federal agency, GSA has final say and it's turned into a very long, very slow process.

by Birdie on May 7, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

I support keeping United in D.C. - having beloved sports teams is part of what makes a city a great place to live, and it would be sad to see our teams sent out to the suburbs. But why put the new stadium so close to the Nationals? Imagine what will happen to Metro if there are events at both stadiums in the same evening - it's bad enough when there's just a Nats game.

Why not just build a new stadium on the existing RFK site? It has access to two (soon three) Metro lines, it's on the river front, and it might move the Res 13 development along - which would create a terrific transit-oriented neighborhood. United also presumably also has the land at that site, so no need for taxpayer subsidies - right?

I wonder, if they get a new site are they going to sell the present RFK site at a profit? That would be completely unacceptable to a lot of people, I think.

by No Eye in Team on May 7, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

That's because in this scenario DC gets the land around RFK to use to create new neighborhoods and a whole new section of the city. That is more preferable than a training facility that sees little use.

I'd argue that the distinction here is that we're talking about soccer not football. I don't recall there being much thought to even the "possibility" of what a training facility and the area around it could potentially be. It was outright rejected absent plans. A universal noooooo was heard around town from those who're more likely to support this. And yes, discussions of Snyder-financed stadium went nowhere because people didn't believe it....just because though.

Football vs. soccer and who supports them.....

No biggie

by HogWash on May 7, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

@HogWash
Not surprisingly, there is very little vocal opposition to even the "idea" of a sports facility (soccer) inside the city.
Now compare that to the nondiscussions of a football training facility where people literally lost their minds in sheer apoplexia.

Your characterization is incorrect, there has been plenty of skepticism expressed on this site about the cost/benefit of a potential soccer stadium.

Personally I am not convinced that it is a good idea; little has been said about how much the city would have to spend on infrastructure improvements. Secondly I don't see how the DC government is maximizing their benefit from this deal; it seems like DC is giving up a lot in order to keep DCU in the District.

by MLD on May 7, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

Not surprisingly, there is very little vocal opposition to even the "idea" of a sports facility (soccer) inside the city.
Now compare that to the nondiscussions of a football training facility where people literally lost their minds in sheer apoplexia.

by HogWash on May 7, 2013 10:35 am

Actually, there's also very little vocal support, either. Soccer sin't on most people's radar. That sais, yo're comparing apples to oranges. A practice facility for the Redskins would generate $0 in economic activity. A working stadium is another matter.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 7, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

If the stadium gets built, perhaps they can take that opportunity to get rid of the team's awful, copycat name and Third Reich logo. Call them the Washington Buzzards.

by Ron on May 7, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

Speaking of a working stadium -- to reply to No Eye -- RFK is owned by the city, and the land under it and around it is owned by the federal government. DC gets to use the land for a stadium. What will happen to it when United moves? The expectation is that the Redskins will move in to a new stadium, which will cost the city a lot of money...in contrast to the United stadium.

The proposed land swaps are sheer genius! Even if United would be getting the land for free, the deal will work to the city's benefit, because Akridge will be building this shiny new public safety campus, without any additional spending by the city for it. If the deal comes together, it's hard to see how any politician would be against it.

Anyone who really thinks it through, has to see the appeal. Sure, United and Akridge will reap benefits. So what? The city will, as well.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 7, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

@No Eye in Team

DC United nor, for that matter, the DC government, owns the RFK site. It's owned by the Federal government on a long term lease for sports and recreation purposes.

Personally, as a neighbor of RFK, I would be cautiously optimistic of a rebuilt soccer stadium at the site, if it was well integrated with the Anacostia river on one side and the neighborhood on the other. That means no surface parking, which is my major objection to the current layout of RFK.

But that would mean going through Congress, which is not impossible but would certainly slow things down. It took the better part of a decade to turn over Res 13 from the Feds to DC government.

by Tim Krepp on May 7, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

@fongfong- Even the Verizon Center. If it were torn down tomorrow it would be immediately replaced with highly-valuable highly-taxed private buildings. The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Authority is more responsible for turning that part of 7th around than that arena. Not only is the V Center tax-exempt but DC pays for it's policing and every few years has to throw another $50M into it for improvements (and skyboxes).

Or since that arena is so good for DC maybe we should tear down a few blocks around Gallery Place for a new soccer stadium. Of course not, that would be taking valuable tax-paying land off the tax rolls and requiring a continual taxpayer subsidy to boot. Just like Verizon Center.

by Tom Coumaris on May 7, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

+1 for Cavan's post. This is a deal that needs to happen, with the caveat that it works for everyone, including DC Taxpayers.

This is the right location. With good design and facing, the stadium itself can be contained within a mixed-use development that will help complete the Anacostia waterfront on the north side of the river.

by William on May 7, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

About the RFK space -- the reason United can't consider building there is it would require an act of Congress to allow RFK to be torn down and replaced by a new stadium. United owns no land, and pays millions in rent to use RFK. United would never get the Congressional legislation. The Redskins, on the other hand, could buy and sell the Congress several times over. If they want a new stadium there, they will get it,

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 7, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

Here's how it would work out for the three parties involved (the District, Akridge, DC United):

The District:
-GIVES UP land at the MPD headquarters and/or Reeves Center
-GETS a newly constructed public safety campus on city-owned land at no cost, plus increased tax revenue from new private sector use of formerly city uses at MPD HQ and/or Reeves Center as well as activities at the new stadium

Akridge:
-GIVES UP land at Buzzard Point and commits to build at its own expense a public safety campus for the city
-GETS more valuable land at MPD headquarters and/or Reeves Center

D.C. United:
-GIVES UP at least $80MM, likely significantly more, in construction costs for the stadium
-GETS the Akridge-owned land at Buzzard Point upon which to build the stadium

Of course it all comes down to the specifics of the public safety campus and valuation of the city properties involved, but this has the potential to be a very good deal for the city, as a new public safety campus constructed at no taxpayer expense would be a boon.

It should be remembered, though, that Akridge is not the only landowner on Buzzard point involved with any land acquisition process. Pepco's soon-to-be retired substation is also within the planned stadium footprint, and Washington Kastles (of World Team Tennis) owner Mark Ein also owns an affected parcel. That said, it would make sense that if Akridge can be appeased, then the other parties could also be brought to the table.

(Full disclosure of my own: I am the managing editor of the D.C. United fan site Black and Red United. I also live in the city and commute exclusively by foot/bike/metro.)

by Adam M Taylor on May 7, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

I like everything except moving MPD. In addition to the downsides of withdrawing a large number of employees from a transit-rich area, Judiciary Square is aptly named. MPD HQ, the DC Office of the Attorney General, DC USAO, and the DC Courts are all there. Perhaps someone here would have better info on this, but I imagine that that central location increases productivity and their accessibility to other members of the legal system. Moving MPD to some relatively distant Public Safety Campus might lead to a more isolated agency.

by JW on May 7, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

I guess I understand the idea behind land swaps but it all strikes me as kind of suspcious. What is the advantage of this over say the city selling the land/purchasing what they need/building it etc? Is there some financial reason this is beneficial? Seems like potentially a way to obfuscate avoiding open bids/giving out sweetheard deals.

by Alan B. on May 7, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

Would DC United own the swapped Akridge parcels or be leasing them from the city at a nearly free amount? I'd prefer the swapped land be leased for almost nothing than to hand over a huge chunk of land gratis and forever. I just can't see what the benefit is of giving DCU ownership of the land for free versus leasing it cheap. Anyone?

by 7r3y3r on May 7, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

@ Tom C.

Decent points, until the last suggestion, which undermines your points. This dog was not suggesting that, as you know.

I don't think you have the facts straight on PADC's reach. I'd love to see a diagram of their authority that heads into Penn Quarter.

I do agree that tearing down VC and putting in new stuff would work out . . . . now.

Even so, you said earlier new arenas never help, and this one did, even if you are correct about PADC.

by fongfong on May 7, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

@No Eye

Soccer games are generally about an hour shorter in total time than a baseball game, so I don't think timing would be an issue.

by jh on May 7, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

"get rid of the team's awful, copycat name and Third Reich logo. Call them the Washington Buzzards."

I assume your saying that DC United is a "copycat" of Manchester United. But "United" is a pretty common team name in England. Newcastle United, Sheffield United, West Ham United, and Petersborough United are just a few. It's not really a "copycat" thing to adopt a common name.

by TM on May 7, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

@No Eye and jh

United and the Nats previously shared RFK, so it's feasible that the two could coordinate schedules to minimize the number of direct conflicts. The Seattle Sounders, I believe, have a similar arrangement in place with the Mariners to avoid a crush on their two adjacent stadiums.

by Adam M Taylor on May 7, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

I support anything that involves tearing down the reeves center.

by aaa on May 7, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

Despite my prior reservations about the new "Public Safety" campus, I do think that this appears to be a fantastic deal on the surface.

I'm generally very skeptical of handouts to sports teams, but this appears to be a good deal for a number of reasons. It gets two very valuable parcels of land onto the tax rolls, and also is our best shot of stimulating development around Buzzard Point. DCU are paying for their facilities, and the land is practically worthless in its current condition.

If this plan stimulates further development on Buzzard Point, it'll be a fantastic deal for the city. If it doesn't, it'll still be a decent deal.

by andrew on May 7, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

I don't especially care what they do with the Reeves Building, so long as they take Marion Barry's name -- up there so prominently -- off the structure. It disappeared for a while under Tony Williams, I think, but then it reappeared again.

by Axel on May 7, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

@Ron - The bald eagle is an exclusive symbol of the Third Reich? I guess I should get rid of all these fascist quarters in my wallet then.

by Chris S. on May 7, 2013 12:14 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash

Football vs. soccer and who supports them.....

No biggie

How is this not playing the race card? I don't even think it is true... I support the R******* 100%, and love our football team, but I do not think they should have a single use, tax-payer funded, 100K seat stadium in an urban environment, that would be used ~12 times a year. I have never been to a DCU game, but certainly feel that a 20K seat, multi-use, owner funded stadium, that would be used 50 times a year, certainly has a place in our urban fabric.

by Kyle-w on May 7, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

D.C. United:
-GIVES UP at least $80MM, likely significantly more, in construction costs for the stadium
-GETS the Akridge-owned land at Buzzard Point upon which to build the stadium

DC United isn't giving up construction costs. It would have to pay those costs absent DC or another locality agreeing to cover them and no other jurisdiction has made a concrete proposal to pay for a new stadium for DCU so we're negotiating against ourselves on this one. It's one thing for the city to cover infrastructure upgrade costs and another to just give away valuable land for free or to pay for the construction of a facility someone else will be making a ton of money off of (ad and naming revenue).

It's a shame that the public has been duped so often into paying for sports teams' business facilities that we now think that they're doing us a favor when they agree to pay for costs they'd normally have to occur.

by 7r3y3r on May 7, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

incur*

by 7r3y3r on May 7, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Maude on May 7, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

The Reeves center may be a very ugly building, but it provides city services at a central and metro accessible location. Moving these offices, as well as the MDP HQ is only going to increase the stratification of DC. These would be rebuilt on city owned land, and where does the city own land? These would be going east and not west. If they are west of the river, these will be accessible by bus and not metro. People working for, or utilizing dc government services are moved further to the periphery. Meanwhile, high end commercial offices and rentals/condos (yes, with a fraction of affordable units)and are put up in metro accessible locations in the city core.

I understand market pressures are forcing this movement, but the city doesn't need to reinforce it. Holding onto these prime central locations will drive development on the edge. Keeping civic buildings centrally located and metro accessible will go much further towards building 'one city' than getting a handful of affordable housing units.

I also second TomQ's notion of keeping some commercial space on U St. Diversity of land use, 24/7 population, etc. It would be a shame for this area to become entirely residential to the detriment of daytime retail.

Regarding the stadium, I understand the concept behind encouraging urban sporting venues as development tool. The national data seems mixed on this, but I can't argue with the Verizon center's impact. I don't think its fair to compare a soccer stadium with the Verizon center. The verizon center hosts games for Wizards, Caps, Georgetown, plus other random events that pass through town like the ice capades circus. It is indoors and can host events year around. Soccer (apologies to the die-hards) is a fringe sport and does not have nearly the same draw. And buzzard point is not nearly as metro accessible as the verizon center or nats park. If you really want the soccer stadium as the hub of a TOD (which I still think is a bad idea for the above reasons), place it closer to a metro stop.

by DaveF on May 7, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

"The Buzzard Point site is a vacant parking lot because there simply isn't enough economic incentive to build there."

Hmm. That seems very off.

Getting rid of the Reeves center would be a great step forward. There are a number of city properies along U st that can be turned around. Seems almost like two city blocks.

Moving MPD to a "security campus" seems increidbly stupid unless you can move the courts as well.

Having a soccer team move to the suburbs in not the worst thing in the world. And if they think they can survive in Baltimore good luck.

by charlie on May 7, 2013 12:40 pm • linkreport

@7r3y3r

By "giving up" I meant relative to right now, not relative to the commonly held fallacy that governments should build stadiums. That is, the $80MM+ is currently in the operating LLC's figurative pocket, and it wouldn't be after the construction of a stadium. I see your point that they aren't giving it up to the city, but it is a significant investment in the District that won't be made without some kind of deal for this land.

My original point, though, still stands: all sides are paying into the deal, whether through land or cash, and all sides are taking something from it - a "trade up" in land value, a new public safety headquarters, the land on which to build a new stadium.

by Adam M Taylor on May 7, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

Just a reminder, the plan calls for streetcars at Buzzard Point at some future time. So the transportation infrastructure costs are impliedly already under consideration.

http://www.dcstreetcar.com/projects/37-mile-streetcar-system/

by Randall M. on May 7, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

How is this not playing the race card?

*scratches head in complete bewilderment*

Considering that the many football games I've attended have largely been much more diverse than my lesser number of soccer games, I'm not sure what the racial angle is beyond the one you've manufactured here.

by HogWash on May 7, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

@7r3y3r -- I don't think anyone has a clue whether United would own the land, or just the improvements. By the way, their original plans call for more than just a stadium. They intended to build a movie theater, a pub, perhaps a museum (might house Soccer Hall of Fame) and some residential housing on the strip, with their offices. So, that should kick-start the development.

Who would own the land? No one outside of the talks would know -- but it's worth noting that the land DC would be supplying s the smallest of the three prospective contributions. Akridge would give up its parcel, PEPCO would throw in their decommissioned plant and DC would give a little piece, where they currently site some of their sand/salt storage. Not exactly a massive giveaway by the city.

And, the team has never suggested they're doing anyone a favor by paying for construction. You're responding to a comment on a blog, written by someone with no affiliation with the team...and using it to blast the team. Talk about a strawman argument...

The team will be able to write the construction costs off, but they couldn't do that with the land. So, this is just a smart approach to finance something that would otherwise be prohibitively costly. Soccer ain't a big business in the US...yet.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 7, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

Put the streetcar turnaround under the new stadium.

The $80 Million that DCU is "giving up" is actually the construction costs, which means blue and white collar jobs (maybe green collar too) for the two years of construction.

In terms of usage, this would be for the mens and women's pro games, college games, high school (DCIAA/OSSE Championship?) as well as concerts and other events.

by William on May 7, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash

You are the one who made the comment. I was simply pointing out the absurdity of your original comment. You implied that due to "who supports them" is the reason that there is serious consideration of a soccer stadium in DC, while the football stadium is not going to happen.

This is absolutely ridiculous, and completely not true. The reasons for why the soccer stadium is under consideration while football is not, are solely due to what I pointed out above.

You cannot pull race into this one, much as you may like to.

by Kyle-w on May 7, 2013 1:07 pm • linkreport

Tom Q's questions are all very good.

In particular, I'd want to know what exactly Akridge would want to do with the Reeves Center if that was part of the deal. The assumption so far in these comments is that they'd tear it down, but that's not necessarily the case. That is a key parcel of land whose value is rapidly appreciating - selling it at the market rate (to Akridge or someone else) may ultimately be a better deal.

The idea of the swap is solid, but the devil will be in the details. The city should make sure it's getting the best possible deal that will benefit the largest number of DC residents.

by Ben on May 7, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

I'd argue that the distinction here is that we're talking about soccer not football.

Nope!

The soccer time actually plays into DC and is looking to move. The city has a concrete interest in using the areas around RFK for something other than sports/parking lots.

Meanwhile there is bland speculation about a football team who neither plays or practices in DC and the impetus for having them phsyically in the city is out of a sense of "pride" rather than any real reason beyond that.

So in one scenario we can negotiate with a body to get things that benefit both the DCU and the city (new playing field, new neighborhood and public facilities) and the other we basically hope and pray that Dan Snyder grant the city his benelovence with no clear expectation of what the city would get in return, except for pride.

So it's not just soccer fans v. football fans.

by drumz on May 7, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

Soccer (apologies to the die-hards) is a fringe sport and does not have nearly the same draw.who's attendance surpassed the NHL and the NBA last year.

by thump on May 7, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

Of course that's average game attendance and not total attendance, thump. If anything is worth noting, it's that it will be used for more than United.

by selxic on May 7, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

You're right selxic, and it's also true that the Pacific Northwest is the real driver for attendance figures. I only posted that to make the point that if soccer is "fringe" in the US, so are hockey and the NBA. If we're talking pure participation, soccer blows other sports away here. I ref the odd U8-U12 game (normally work higher levels) and usually I walk away wondering why, if parents got that worked up about a terribly played game by young kids, why they wouldn't at least try going to a pro game or watching more games on TV.

by thump on May 7, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

DCU draws about 14-15K per game, the Wizards 16K, the Caps 17-18K. Part of the reason the crowd at DCU games looks sparse is because the stadium is only 1/3 full - and that's part of the reason they want a more size-appropriate venue. In terms of people attending the games, they are similar. More people watch NBA/NHL on TV though.

by MLD on May 7, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

I'd be surprised if the Wizards average attendance in 2012-2013 was 16K. Probably closer to 13K. Might be even lower if we count "butts in seat" attendance, not paid attendance.

by Birdie on May 7, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

@Fischy: the team has never suggested they're doing anyone a favor by paying for construction. You're responding to a comment on a blog, written by someone with no affiliation with the team...and using it to blast the team. Talk about a strawman argument...

Nowhere in my comments did I blast the team or take issue with them. My issue was with @Adam M. Taylor's statement that DCU was "giving up" construction costs and how it seemed like he was presenting that as if it were a concession on their part:
The District:
-[CONCESSION in favor of Akridge]
-[BENEFIT TO DC]
Akridge:
-[CONCESSION in favor of DC]
-[BENEFIT to Akridge]
D.C. United:
-[NON CONCESSION]
-[BENEFIT to DCU]

He's since clarified his point that he didn't mean concession but rather detriment, if I understood him correctly.

Look, I like soccer, DCU, and MLS (FIFA and Blatter not so much) and would love for DCU to stay in the District. I just want DC to get its fair share out of this. Ultimately, I believe the discussion should be focusing on what benefits DCU is providing to DC in return for the free land it would receive from the District and whether those benefits are worth the District giving up that land. Playing off @Adam M. Taylor's chart, here's how I see it:

The District:
-CONCESSION to Akridge: land at MPD headquarters and/or Reeves Center
-BENEFIT from Akridge: land at Buzzard Point, newly constructed public safety campus on city-owned land at no cost, plus increased tax revenue from new private sector use of formerly city uses at MPD HQ and/or Reeves Center
-CONCESSION to DCU: land at Buzzard Point and infrastructure upgrades
-BENEFIT from DCU: increased tax revenue from activities at the new stadium
Akridge:
-CONCESSION to DC: land at Buzzard Point, newly constructed public safety campus on city-owned land at no cost, plus increased tax revenue from new private sector use of formerly city uses at MPD HQ and/or Reeves Center
-BENEFIT to Akridge: land at MPD headquarters and/or Reeves Center
DC United:
-CONCESSION to DC: paying for their own stadium? increased tax revenue from activities at the new stadium
-BENEFIT from DC: land at Buzzard Point and infrastructure upgrade

Seeing as how DCU does not have any offers from other jurisdictions (other than Bmore WANTING them to relocate there), I don't see what concession DCU is making in return for receiving free land. Also, you say that "the land DC would be supplying is the smallest of the three prospective contributions . . . Not exactly a massive giveaway by the city." Except that DC would be giving away its currently owned portions AND the Akridge portions that it would acquire from Akridge in the land swap.

Regardless, I believe the ultimate question is this: is the economic loss that the District is incurring by giving up the Buzzard Point land to DCU for free offset by the future increased revenue from DCU's Buzzard Point development?

by 7r3y3r on May 7, 2013 3:45 pm • linkreport

@HogWash:

Not surprisingly, there is very little vocal opposition to even the "idea" of a sports facility (soccer) inside the city. Now compare that to the nondiscussions of a football training facility where people literally lost their minds in sheer apoplexia.

I'm honestly curious why you think this is.

by oboe on May 7, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

@MLD

Keep in mind that the Capitals play significantly more games, and have the potential to have WAY more play-off games.

I would also venture to say that the Capitals average ticket price is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than DCU, leading to a lot more revenue from the 10% sales tax on ticket purchases.

by Kyle-w on May 7, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

It isn't just the revenues from the Buzzard Point site. It is also making taxable the lands and activities at 14th and U and Judiciary Square.

by William on May 7, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

I'm honestly curious why you think this is.

On second thought, never mind.

by oboe on May 7, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

I'll admit that I know little to nothing about soccer. I'm actually impressed/surprised by the attendance numbers. That being said, the argument here isn't about mls versus nba/nhl (and I apologize if I moved the discussion in this direction). The main point is that this specific stadium is less likely to be as successful at generating urban renewal than the verizon center. Assuming the attendance per game is a wash, there are still twice as many nba games in a season as the mls. There are also twice as many nhl games. Solely looking at mls vs nba and nhl, there will be appx 4 times as many events held at verizon compared to a united stadium. This does not count college basketball, ice-capades, circus, monster truck rallies, WWE events. These events, as cheesy as they are, are significant draws that fill out the year-round schedule of the building. An outdoor stadium is going to sit empty half the year. An indoor arena is also much more flexible for renting out to multiple sized events.

I guess my point is that this stadium, is unlikely to create the same positive effects as the verizon center, due to the fact that it will draw fewer people total over the course of a year. That is why I do not think the stadium should factor into any real estate swaps.

by DaveF on May 7, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

@7r3y3r:

I think rather than "concessions" to different involved parties, it's more constructive to think of what each party brings to the table as "contributions" to the pot from which each of the District, Akridge and United will benefit. Without the team's contribution of the stadium construction costs, they won't benefit, but neither will there be any tax revenue or reason for the city to acquire the land from Akridge. (I obviously don't know whether it's the case or not, but the stadium input could be the sine qua non of this deal.)

The fact that all parties are contributing to the pie and are benefiting from it (mmm... pie) doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be a fair deal (as I said above, it'll depend on the details), but this looks to me like it has a lot of promise for the city, for Akridge and for the team. It strikes me as a good example of creative thinking by all involved in the negotiations.

by Adam M Taylor on May 7, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

That hardly seems like the only way DC could make those lands taxable. The main question is what is the advantage of a complicated land swap over just selling unnecessary property and building new facilities. It may be fiscal or budgetary or just due to the complicated nature of urban land markets, but it seems like that should be at least spelled out.

by Alan B. on May 7, 2013 4:21 pm • linkreport

@William:
Those revenues would be there regardless of whether DCU gets the Buzzard Point land. Akridge does not care what DC does with the land after it's swapped and will develop the U Street/Judiciary Square property irrespective of what DC does with their newly acquired land. So I'm not arguing the land swap aspect, I'm just wondering if having DCU develop the Buzzard Point land is more beneficial to the District than something/anything else. And I'm not arguing that it's not, but I have yet to read any article or comment describing why that is and whether the stadium being built is a necessary condition for the land swap since it seems that DC needs new agency HQs regardless.

by 7r3y3r on May 7, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

This is as close to a free lunch as you are going to get for giving a pro sports team a new stadium. Let's put this in perspective we are talking about a land swap where the city pays nothing, and in return gets a new public safety campus, gets tax revenue from Ackridge redeveloping a downtown building, gets to keep its pro-team in the fastest growing US sport, and gets to spur development in an underutilized area of the city. This is an amazing deal for the city.

Many simply object to the principle of giving a pro-team anything. Yes it can be odious, but the fact is that professional sports contribute to the culture of the city, just as opera houses like the Kennedy center do. Sports teams have value to cities so it makes sense for cities to attempt to keep them.

And without a stadium, United will leave DC and will likely leave the region. Cities and ownership groups are tripping over themselves to add an MLS team. A second team in NYC will likely pay $100 million merely for the rights to place a team there. DCU could easily relocate to Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis, Charlotte, Phoenix, San Diego, etc. You don't help them get a stadium and soccer leaves the city. It seems to me DC has found a brilliant way to do it.

by mb on May 7, 2013 5:52 pm • linkreport

The Reeves center may be a very ugly building, but it provides city services at a central and metro accessible location.

Genuinely curious: What city services are provided at the Reeves Center?

A few years ago, the City Paper tried to make sense of what purpose the building served, and didn't exactly come do a convincing conclusion. It sounds like you could eliminate much of the space in the Reves Center, and relocate the remaining agencies to a more modern and appropriate space.

by andrew on May 8, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

The Reeves Center is a dinosaur from a past era. It was built at a time when real estate on U Street was cheap and not all that desireable. Currently, it serves no real purpose and is actually a drag on the neighborhood. Especially at night, when the rest of the strip is bustling, the Reeves Center is a dead zone.

Any deal that gets the Reeves Center torn down and replaced with a private mixed-use development is a good one.

by Potowmack on May 8, 2013 11:07 am • linkreport

14 and U is a dead zone? Do we go to different U streets?

by Alan B. on May 8, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

I don't think anyone has pointed out another cost to the city: DC would be on the hook for all of the infrastructure costs associated with building the stadium. I believe sports team owners should pay for all of the costs of their stadiums; not just the stadiums themselves - so this part of the deal seems unfair to me. Otherwise, assuming the numbers work out well for the city (and there are too many unknowns at this stage to know), I like the concept.

by Arnold on May 8, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

14 and U is a dead zone? Do we go to different U streets?

14th and U isn't a dead zone. The Reeves Center is. Sure, people walk by it on the way to other destinations in the area, but the Reeves Center is shut down outside of business hours. On all the other sides of 14th and U around it, there's something going on until the wee hours. After 5, the Reeves Center is just an empty office building.

by Potowmack on May 8, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

So, GSA turned its nose up at Buzzard Point because Metro's Navy Yard Station is a 15 minute walk? Why does anyone imagine that this site will work for a DC United stadium that will draw 15,000 fans per game with the inadquate transportation options currently available? The Green Line barely works for Nationals Games. And the traffic leading into and out of the Capitol Riverfront area as a result is challenging at best. And heaven forbid we have games at the same time.

Buzzard Point is extremely isolated geographically. It has few streets leading in and, of those, most necessitate cutting through heavily populated residential streets in Southwest. And even if such vastly increased automobile traffic could easily get to Buzzard Point, if the existing parking lots owned by Akridge will now contain a stadium, precisely where is it that patrons will park?

I'm as concerned with the speculative value of the land swaps and who's paying the significant infrastructure costs as I am about the real operational constraints that this site presents when it comes to transportation management.

If you build it, they will come --- but not if they can't get there.

by Babe Truth on May 8, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

I mean lots of apartments are dead during 9-5. Mixed use doesnt mean literally every building has to be active all the time.

by Alan B. on May 8, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

The Green Line barely works for Nationals Games.

This seems to be thrown around a lot. Where did this idea come from? What does it mean?

I find the Green Line works extremely well for Nationals Games, compared to the alternatives. Extra trains come and move tons of people out of that station quite quickly. Traffic is a nightmare after games; only biking can get you out faster than Metro I think.

by MLD on May 8, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

"I mean lots of apartments are dead during 9-5. Mixed use doesnt mean literally every building has to be active all the time."

Actually, part of the purpose of mixed use is to maximize the use of the space, which is why many new mixed use buildings have ground floor retail that is active 9-5 (and sometimes after), while the residential portion gets more foot traffic before and after traditional work hours.

by washingtonian on May 8, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

Last time I checked, the Reeve Center had ground floor retail. Not sure what else people want out of it other than maybe apartments on top? I mean I'm certainly not against redeveloping it and moving the office elsewhere. Probably makes economic sense for the city, but it's hardly an abandoned parcel that the city needs to get rid of either.

Anyway I would disagree with the characterization of mixed use as being maximizing the use of each building. It's to bring a mix of uses into generally the block scale within walking distance. Typically people incorporate them all into new construction because we do often it on such a large scale and also because you want retail on the ground floor but there is nothing inherently wrong with putting an apartment building next to a grocery store and recognizing it as a mixed use block.

by Alan B. on May 8, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

Football vs. soccer and who supports them.....No biggie

You mean everyone (football) vs. a much smaller group dominated by Latin American immigrants (soccer). Yes, I see how that explains the double standard which you claim exists even though it doesn't.

by David C on May 8, 2013 11:28 pm • linkreport

Land is too valuable to be giving away for something that's not a concrete public service.

WEll, I don't totally disagree. THere is no reason why DC United can't afford to pay for this on their own. But, I'll note that cities play a role in providing art, recreation and entertainment to their citizens - and this could fall under the last category. More generally, cities are charged with making life better for their citizens and you could argue that people lives would be better if DC United had a stadium. I don't agree with that necessarily, but it's an argument with some merit.

Anyone who really thinks it through, has to see the appeal. Sure, United and Akridge will reap benefits. So what? The city will, as well.

Will it? How much is that benefit worth, and what will they have to pay to get it?

What case would you make against the Verizon Center revitalizing Penn Quarter?

The neighborhood would have been turned around now with or without the Verizon Center, and might in fact be better now without it. Stadiums don't lead to development, but sometimes they see where development is going to happen and go there. Penn Quarter is better explained by Metro, upzoning the neighborhood, revivals of downtowns in general and other factors than by the myth that the Washington Post has perpetuated.

I guess I understand the idea behind land swaps but it all strikes me as kind of suspcious. What is the advantage of this over say the city selling the land/purchasing what they need/building it etc?

Ding ding ding! We have a winner. Alan B is making this point too. This may be a good deal, but it may not. We don't know the value of what the city is putting in is, and no one has quantified what the end result is worth. It's like playing "Let's make a deal" except everything is behind a curtain. So how anyone is confident this is a good deal for the city, I don't know. I think they just WANT it to happen regardless of the numbers.

by David C on May 8, 2013 11:53 pm • linkreport

Ding ding ding! We have a winner. Alan B is making this point too. This may be a good deal, but it may not. We don't know the value of what the city is putting in is, and no one has quantified what the end result is worth. It's like playing "Let's make a deal" except everything is behind a curtain. So how anyone is confident this is a good deal for the city, I don't know. I think they just WANT it to happen regardless of the numbers.

Absolutely correct. To accurately say that the city is getting a "good deal," we have to quantify the alternatives and compare.
Let's say the alternative is to not do this deal but sell the properties and use that money to build the new public safety campus/offices and DCU moves away
1. What could DC get for the Reeves Ctr/MPD HQ properties on the open market?
2. What would the new public safety campus/reeves ctr office replacement cost?
3. What is the value/impact of whatever may be built in Buzzard Pt? (could be zero if nothing is built for 10-20 years)

And the swap plan:
1. What is the value of the team to the city?
2. What is the value of the stadium to the city?
3. What would the stadium cost the city (infrastructure improvements)?

The following are not included because the city gets them in both deals (so they cancel out):
1. Value of the new public safety campus/city offices
2. Value of new construction at Reeves/MPD HQ

The issue is that people often compare these deals to "doing nothing," obviously this deal seems better than doing nothing (for the cost of infrastructure at the stadium we get stadium+team+new construction+new safety campus) but is it the best the city can do?

by MLD on May 9, 2013 9:09 am • linkreport

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