Monday, November 17, 2014

Advocates Make Final Case for Buzzard Point Soccer Stadium in Washington, DC, 2014

Before and After Pictures of Stadium at Buzzard Point, 2014 and 2018
(Images: Doug Barnes)

By Douglas Barnes, David Rusk, and Tod Lindberg

November 17, 2014

Pro-Buzzard Point advocates turned out in force at DC's Committee of the Whole public hearing. Witnesses representing District Citizens United for a Soccer Stadium (DCUS) and its ward committees were ten of the first 14 speakers.

The D.C. Council held a roundtable during the week of November 11-17, 2014  to hear public testimony about the proposed DC United Buzzard Point soccer stadium. What follows is the testimony submitted by members of our team. The witnesses focused on many different dimensions of the Buzzard Point proposal: job creation, fiscal benefits, accelerating Buzzard Point development, D.C. United's many good works in the community, "priceless" benefits of United Soccer Club for low-income children, and others. All the testimony is well worth reading. It will remind you that the DC United community is very special.

David Rusk (DCUS) summarizes widespread support for Buzzard Point

My name is David Rusk. I have been a DC resident for 31 years. I am currently a co-chair with Tod Lindberg and Doug Barnes of District Citizens United for a Soccer Stadium (DCUS).

Beginning two months ago, we formed DCUS to focus specifically on organizing DC United fans who are District residents into ward-by-ward advocate groups for Buzzard Point. We have co-chairs in each ward who are adding to their members daily. Though notice was short, a number are testifying this evening.

Each ward committee will be visiting its councilmember and at-large members as the DC Council moves towards a final decision. We intend for DCUS to remain active until the whistle blows for the inaugural match at Buzzard Point.

Our effort only adds to the already broad support across the Washington-Maryland-Virginia metro area for Buzzard Point.

The Unite DC Coalition includes almost 80 business, labor, and civic organizations and member groups of the local soccer community that supports Buzzard Point.

 Several thousand members of Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles, La Norte, and DC Ultras supporters groups who keep RFK rocking and bouncing for every game ardently wish for a new stadium at Buzzard Point.

 Over 10,000 District residents have visited the Unite DC website and most have emailed or phoned in their support to the DC Council.

 The board of directors of DC Stoddert Soccer, with over 6,000 youth players (most in DC), has endorsed a new DC United stadium within DC along with DC Scores which serve 1,500 low-income boys and girls with an after-school soccer program linked with learning self-expression and a commitment to serve the community.

Of special note is the United Soccer Club, directly staffed and paid for by DC United and the United States Soccer Foundation. United Soccer Club provides over 1,500 low-income youth in 14 DC schools in Wards 6, 7, and 8 with an after-school soccer program, academic assistance (United Reads), and other positive support.

Adding in the adult leagues, over 10,000 District residents are playing soccer and excited about soccer's future at Buzzard Point.

One of our support-building projects has been a petition drive that has had over 1,000 supporters from the District, Maryland, and Virginia sign petitions in just five or six hours' time at the last two Lot 8 tailgate parties and during the bus caravan to New York's Red Bull Arena.

Tod Lindberg (DCUS) presents pro-Buzzard Point petitions.

Thank you, David. My name is Tod Lindberg. I've lived in the District since moving to the area in 1985. I want to read you the text of the two petitions to the D.C. Council that we will be submitting to you, one signed by residents of the District and one signed by residents of Maryland, Virginia, and other out-of-towners.

The petitions are organized around a call-and-response cheer, "I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN." The cheer became especially popular among Americans during the World Cup. I will remind the Council that television ratings for the World Cup were higher in the DC area than anywhere in the United States, an indication of the popularity of soccer in the nation's capital and the support for it. Today, though, I will skip leading the cheer.

The DC residents' petition says:

I believe that DC United is a dynamic contributor to the quality of life and the economy of the District of Columbia.

I believe that to stay in D.C. permanently, DC United must build a new stadium and that the D.C. Council must pass legislation allowing the team to make that happen at Buzzard Point.

I believe that a team with a tradition of winning championships and serving the community deserves the support of residents of the District and their elected representatives.

I believe that we can work together to make a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point a win for the District, neighborhood residents and businesses, the team, and sports fans throughout the city.

I believe that we will win!

The non-residents' petition says:

I believe that DC United is a dynamic contributor to the quality of life and the economy of the DMV.

I believe that to stay in the DMV permanently, DC United must build a new stadium and that Buzzard Point is the right place.

I believe that a team with a tradition of winning championships and serving the community deserves support throughout the DMV.

I believe that we who live in the DMV will turn out for EVEN MORE DC United matches at the new world-class soccer stadium at Buzzard Point.

I believe that we will win!

I would add that as we were collecting signatures at two home games and on a bus trip to an away game in New Jersey, many of those who were not residents of DC asked if it was OK for them to sign the petition as well. In response, I often pointed out that because they were willing to come to the District and spend some of their discretionary income to attend a sporting event, the DC Council needed to hear from them as well.

Doug Barnes (DCUS): CSL's conclusion: a Good Deal for DC

I am Doug Barnes and I am a co-chair with David Rusk and Tod Lindberg of the DCUS. I've been a district resident since 1980.

First, I wish to thank the Council for taking the advice of David Rusk and myself during a previous public testimony that the Cost-Benefit report should use a 30 year rather than a 10-year time frame. I have several observations on the new report.

This new report is very professionally done and provides some useful insights for the Committee to make a judgment about the soundness of the investment in a new DC United stadium.

The report confirms that the entire deal is a sound investment, producing new net fiscal benefits for the District of $109 million above costs. This 109 million is above and beyond what the District would have made by investing the $131 million in a 4% 30-year bond.

In addition, the report confirms that the District will still own the stadium land at Buzzard Point even after all these benefits.

The reports confirm that even the Buzzard Point stadium and new hotel by themselves are a good investment for the District, providing total benefits net of costs of $49 million.

The report confirms, and this may surprise you, that non-DC resident taxpayers mainly from Maryland and Virginia through sales taxes, ticket charges, and hotel taxes over the 30 years will almost cover the entirety of the District's $131 million land assembly costs.

The report confirms that accelerated nearby investment will take these benefit numbers to an even higher level.

The report confirms that the 3- appraiser land panel assessment judgments were correct.

The main area of disagreement is in the valuation of the Reeves Center. This was caused by including the entire 3-year leaseback to the District in the value of the Reeves Center. No matter what, that is an expense that the District has to pay to house their employees, regardless of the new stadium. Surely that $11.2 million difference is an issue that can be resolved.

Looking beyond all the numbers in the CSL report, the new stadium also fits in well with existing development projects at Buzzard Point. This includes the Frederick Douglass Bridge, the South Capitol Street Development, and the greening of the Anacostia riverfront with bicycle trails and parks. Along with the new stadium, all these projects can work better together, rather than separately. This will provide the citizens of Washington DC a high value for its investments for many years to come.

To conclude, the DC Council should support the new stadium for DC United at Buzzard Point and support the DC United franchise, a loyal member of the Washington DC community for the last 20 years.

Mark Rickling (Ward 1) outlines job benefits

My name is Mark Rickling and I've lived in the District for 14 years. I am co-chair of Ward 1 for Buzzard Point.

 I believe the consultant's report shows this is a great deal for the District

In these tough economic times, when District residents are struggling and far too many people are still out of work, public investment is exactly what our government should be doing to put people back to work.

As the consultant's report shows, this deal creates over fifteen hundred new, full-time jobs in the District.

And moreover, the District leverages its investment in this deal, capped at $150 million, by pulling down an additional $150 million in private money from the team, which wouldn't be invested in DC otherwise.

And this is a smart investment in our future. In addition to creating new jobs and putting District residents back to work, it keeps D.C United in DC and spurs further development in an area that thus far has been left behind.

It is for these reasons I'm encouraging you to sport the proposal to invest in a new stadium at Buzzard Point and create much-needed jobs for District residents.

Paul Sotoudeh (Ward 2) stresses unifying DC community

My name is Paul Sotoudeh. I was born here in the District. I'm co-chair of Ward 2 for Buzzard Point, and I'm also a board member and past president of the Screaming Eagles, which is a DC United fan organization. Thank you for organizing this session tonight and giving the public the opportunity to speak on this issue. I'm a proud supporter of this proposal - this partnership - and I want to tell you why.

Back when DC United was founded in 1996, I knew that name was chosen not just as a nod to a soccer tradition but as a statement of purpose in the wake of the tensions of the late 80s and early 90s in our community - the goal of helping create "a DC, united".

But the thing that has struck me from day one is that community hasn't just been about a name for DC United. It's singular, and I think quite frankly remarkable, just how community-oriented DC United is.

Feeding the homeless, repairing schools, supporting childhood literacy, participating in park cleanups, building cleanups, food, toy, and clothing drives - the DC United organization doesn't do these projects as one-offs. These are ongoing efforts, some going on continuously for over a decade. For their entire 19 season history, the team has been working at the grassroots level to make our city better.

DC United is the kind of organization that our city should be proud to partner with for a project like this. And by any real-world benchmark, this is a partnership. We live in an era when municipalities are usually asked to fund all or nearly all of most stadium projects - Miami, Atlanta, two stadiums in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and of course Nationals Park here in DC. The list is endless.

But that's not what we have here. This is a true partnership, a 50/50 split, very similar to the partnership which brought our city the Verizon Center. In the real world, that's a good deal for all of us.

I've heard lots of talk about how the proposed stadium is going to be a half-mile walk from Metrorail, and maybe that's too far. Well, the exit to the Foggy Bottom Metro is 8/10 of a mile from the corner of M and Wisconsin, and yet day and night you see people pouring out of that station to walk into Georgetown. The Woodley Park Metro station is 6/10 of a mile from the center of Adams-Morgan at 18th and Columbia Road, and yet hordes of people regularly make that walk to access one of the most popular nightlife districts in our city. And that isn't even taking into account the presence of the 74 Metrobus line, which drops fans a mere 2/10 of a mile - 3 blocks - from the new stadium site.

This is home, and I'm a member of this community first well before I'm a DC United fan. As someone who works professionally in dispute resolution - helping parties find happy solutions to seemingly intractable problems - I must say that it's so rare to see a public-private partnership like this one that benefits all parties in so many ways. This project is a win-win for our economy, our community, our city, and a team and organization that has EARNED our respect both on and off the field, and it would be a crying shame to see it fail.

My mother always told me to never let perfect be the enemy of good. I understand the desire to try to pick apart the deal or renegotiate it to get the city more favorable terms. But this is a good deal and a fair deal by any real-world benchmark, and it's time for us to get it done. I hope our community can count on your support.

Donald Wine (Ward 2) highlights the stadium's benefits

My name is Donald Wine II. I'm a Ward 2 resident and am co-chair of Ward 2 for Buzzard Point. I am also the President of the American Outlaws DC Chapter, the largest chapter of the largest supporters group for the U.S. National Teams. I am also a field team member for the Screaming Eagles, a supporters group for D.C. United.

I am in favor of Bill 20-805 and while you will hear several people discuss the various benefits and risks to the Stadium Development Act, I'm going to focus on the stadium itself as well as a couple big reasons why I feel this proposal is a good deal for the District.

First off, soccer-specific doesn't mean soccer-only. This stadium will not just be open for the 17-18 DC United matches each season. The new stadium would be able to hold several events, including but not limited to college football, college soccer, concerts, outdoor festivals, national soccer teams, college and professional lacrosse, and even rugby. These events will bring hundreds of thousands of people to the District and would mean millions of dollars in revenue each year, money that will benefit the District directly.

D.C. residents aren't the only people who will frequent this stadium. People from all across America will travel to D.C. to attend events in the new stadium. Currently, a group from Richmond and parts south of D.C. already travel up every week for D.C. United matches. The U.S. Men's National Team has played more matches in D.C. than in any other city in the nation. With a new stadium, we know that D.C. will remain in the regular rotation of cities that US Soccer will choose to host its home matches and important tournament qualifiers, drawing fans from all 50 states. It will keep the "RVA DCU" crew coming up week after week for United matches. They will rent hotel rooms, they will spend money at restaurants and bars, they will utilize the District's public transportation, taxis, and D.C.-commissioned car services, and all of that will keep dollars here in the District.

In the sports world, fans of opposing teams list the stadium among their top reasons for traveling to watch their team play in another city. D.C. is already one of the most visited places in the world. A beautiful stadium at Buzzard Point will be the darling of MLS and the envy of not just the soccer world but the sports world. D.C. will forever be a must-see destination for MLS fans as well as fans of any team that would play in the stadium.

The Stadium Development Act of 2014 is a good deal for the District. It brings much-needed money into the District and develops an area that won't otherwise be developed for as many as 10 years down the road. And, it will be easily the best stadium in MLS and also enhance what is already the best home-field advantage in American soccer.

To touch briefly on the land swap deal, as you know, this is a necessary provision for the deal so the District does not run near its self-imposed debt ceiling. Many people have suggested that the District auction off the Reeves Center to raise the necessary funds to buy the land needed for the stadium. What auction advocates overlook is a pretty major issue: most city building auctions fail to bring in the type of cash the building was thought to be worth. The Pontiac Silverdome, the 80,000-seat former home of the Detroit Lions, was thought to be worth tens of millions of dollars. It was auctioned off in the hopes it would bring in $50 million, which is less than the market value for the Reeves Center. In the end, the highest bidder won the Silverdome for $583,000, which was less than it cost to buy a home in the closest neighborhood to the stadium, about 1/2 mile down the road. Not only would a Reeves Center auction add 2-3 years to the project timeline, but it's also more likely to bring in less money than the District would get via the land swap provision.

This is our last shot. D.C. United has been trying for over a decade to land a new stadium. They're losing money every single year even as the sport of soccer grows exponentially. If there's no stadium, it's a real possibility that the team will leave for greener pastures, which would leave the District as one of the few capital cities in the world without a professional soccer team. Cities like Las Vegas, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Sacramento are close to approving soccer-specific stadiums of their own and they haven't even applied formally for an MLS franchise. The time is now for D.C. to step up and take care of a team that has been uplifting the District through not only its play but its charitable work in the community for almost 2 decades.

No deal is perfect, but this deal is one that will benefit the District and its residents for decades to come. Let's keep the Tradition going...let's keep D.C. United. I strongly encourage you all to approve Bill 20-805, the District of Columbia Soccer Stadium Development Act of 2014. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Adam Taylor (Ward 5) outlines deal improvements

My name is Adam Taylor, and I reside with my wife and daughter on Hanover Place NW here in the District. I am co-chair of the grassroots group Ward 5 for Buzzard Point, and I am here to express my support for the proposed deal to allow D.C. United to build a soccer stadium in Southwest.

You've already heard from others tonight and in previous hearings - and you will continue to hear - about the various fiscal and economic benefits a stadium will net the District - such as the $109 net fiscal gain before even considering any additional development a stadium might spur. You've heard about the myriad social and charitable causes DC United has supported throughout the club's 19-year history - including their work with students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary. And you've heard about the good that a new Reeves Center in Anacostia could accomplish, as well as the benefits of putting the original Reeves Center site back onto the tax roll. And all of this without displacing a single District resident from their home.

I would like to add my voice to those who have given their support.

The proposed deal has changed since it was first presented to you last summer, and these changes have made the deal better. Akridge Development has accepted conditions requested by the neighbors of the Reeves site on 14th & U streets, agreeing to a substantial amount of non-residential space in the building to promote daytime foot traffic and committing to maintaining public space for the neighborhood farmers market. The original proposal to negate D.C. United's sales and property taxes unless the club turned a profit has been replaced by well-defined and temporary tax abatements, which will be repaid in large part by a new per-ticket "additional rent" charge over the final twenty years of the stadium lease. As Jason Levien's letter in this morning's Washington Post makes clear, United has also agreed to cover any cost overruns, including those connected to environmental remediation at the stadium site, greatly mitigating the city's risk in the project. The communities around the stadium will have access to the building rent-free for at least three community events each year. These changes have improved the deal for the city, and it is now a proposal I have no hesitation in urging you to approve.

Thank you, members of the Council, for your attention and leadership on this important project, and thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight. I hope you will look closely at the proposals and the Council's requested consultants' report and come to the same conclusion that I and many others here tonight have: This is a good deal for the city, and you should approve the bill in front of you.

Molly Thompson (Ward 6) cites Southwest DC neighborhood improvements

My name is Molly Thompson, and I have been a DC United supporter for five years, and a resident of Southwest DC for seven months. I live at O and Half Streets, SW about four blocks from the stadium site. I am co-chair of Ward 6 for Buzzard Point.

I'd like to thank the Council for considering the consultant's report and taking our testimony tonight. I'd like to talk about one of the conclusions from the report, which states that without the stadium, Buzzard Point isn't likely to see significant development for another 8 to 10 years at a minimum. I'd like to talk about what this means to me as a resident of Southwest DC.

The stadium would bring about the environmental cleanup for four sites in Buzzard Point, at least one or two of which are likely to be fairly polluted. Without the stadium, these sites will likely not be cleaned up for another decade.

The stadium design proposal included additional green spaces, such as parks along the waterfront. The development would bring about better access to those sites. Currently, in order to access the waterfront, residents have to walk past a salvage yard on a road that has no sidewalks. The stadium development would bring improved access to the new green spaces along the waterfront for all residents of the neighborhood.

The stadium development would bring new jobs to the neighborhood. In a recent neighborhood safety meeting, the residents pointed out that what the neighborhood really needs is additional jobs. This project would bring many new jobs to Southwest, giving residents additional opportunities.

The project would also bring additional opportunities for retail and restaurants to residents.

The project would bring additional housing units to the neighborhood, including additional affordable housing units, increasing the number of additional housing units in Southwest.

The project would also bring to Southwest a partner who is committed to serving the community. As other testimony has shown, DC United is a team that cares deeply about serving DC. If this proposal isn't passed, whatever developer who comes in in 8 - 10 years will likely not be able to make that claim. Recently the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly wrote a letter to the Council concluding that the stadium deal is a loser for DC. This letter ignores many of the benefits to the neighborhood, benefits that would otherwise take a decade to achieve. The letter doesn't represent the views of everyone in Southwest DC, and it certainly doesn't represent my views. I believe that the deal would be a winner for Southwest, and I don't want to wait another 8-10 years for the benefits that this deal would provide. I urge the Council to vote yes on the stadium legislation.

Melanie Casner (Ward 6) cites United Soccer Club's "priceless" value for low-income kids

I am Melanie Casner, a Ward 6 resident and co-chair of Ward 6 for Buzzard Point. I am here tonight to express my strong support for the new DC United Soccer Stadium and urge the Council to act quickly to approve the Stadium Act of 2014. The analysis commissioned by the Council considers the tangible costs and benefits of the land swaps and construction of the stadium as components of the proposed legislation.

However, the analysis does not consider the intangible benefits the community realizes through several programs managed by DC United. For example, the mission of the United Soccer Club is to introduce the sport of soccer to youth in inner-city and underprivileged communities at 14 schools in the greater Washington, D.C. area. The United Soccer Club has a presence in all 8 Wards of the District. Practices are held three times a week within the hours that juveniles statistically commit most crimes. According to the United States Department of Education, "The largest spike in the number of offenses occurs in the hours immediately following students' release from school."

So how will the recipients of these charitable organizations and the community at large benefit from the new soccer stadium? The construction of a soccer-specific stadium would demonstrate to the youth of the community that the District is committed to the DC United organization and all that it does, including its charitable activities. Furthermore, a showcase stadium will encourage youngsters to get involved in the sport as participants and/or fans.

Just as a showcase stadium will attract youth to the sport, it will also serve to attract adults to the stadium who will then be exposed to the programs that DC United sponsors and inspired to get involved. I can point to myself as an example. I first became aware of volunteer opportunities with the United Soccer Club in a season ticket holder newsletter. Through the United Soccer Club, I volunteer up to six hours a week at Payne Elementary School, a DC Public School in SE, to teach basic soccer skills, character-building traits, and health and wellness skills to approximately 50 kids ranging from pre-kindergarten to second grade.

Some of the children I coach are homeless or in foster care and greatly benefit from a stable routine in a safe environment. Many of the kids suffer from very low self-esteem and lack confidence; however, since I first began working with them 12-weeks ago, I've noticed a dramatic improvement in their confidence and interpersonal skills. The lessons I teach them on the soccer field are all applicable and transferrable to challenges they face at home and at school. The kids depend on United Soccer Club coaches and confide in us on matters related and unrelated to soccer. I got involved in this program through attending DC United games and being a fan. This new stadium could inspire many more DC United fans to volunteer.

My fear is that if the proposed legislation is not approved and the stadium is not built, that DC United may leave the District. Not only would we not have a professional soccer team, but we would also fail to realize the intangible benefits attributable to the DC Stadium plan. D.C. United fans who live in the District and support the deal turned out in force to make their case.

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