About 2014 Stadium Campaign

Since 2004 the DC United soccer team in Washington, DC had been trying to move out of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium (RFK), a former football and baseball venue. DC United had occupied the stadium since 1996, and the team won several championships there.. The old stadium had soul, but with a capacity of over 50,000 and typical game-day attendance of 15,000-20,000, on game days it was more than half empty. RFK was built in 1960. It looked every bit its age, with peeling paint and concrete sometimes falling from its roof and upper decks. Raccoons and other varmints were common in the old building, engaging in staring contests with coaches and players.
Main Ticket Entrance at RFK Stadiu before DC United Game
RFK Stadium Main Entrance, 2011
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
In November 2006, during his campaign for mayor, Adrian Fenty came to RFK and said before 20,000 cheering fans, “DC United deserves to have a new stadium in at Poplar Point in Washington, DC.” The deal to which Fenty was referring was proposed by a new owner of DC United. In addition to building a new stadium at Poplar Point, on the south side of the Anacostia River across from Navy Yard, the team’s owner sought the rights to other commercial development in the area.

After entering office, Fenty changed his mind and put the development of the land up for bid. Eventually, because of the 2008 recession, all developers backed out of a possible deal to develop Poplar Point. DC United was left holding the bag.

A second significant attempt to build a stadium occurred in 2009. In Prince Georges County, Maryland. A small group of local politicians touted a new location within a reasonable distance from Metro, and DC United was ready to sign on the dotted line. Raised expectations were dashed after other less enthusiastic Prince Georges County Council officials would not approve the stadium. Many DC United fans were thankful that the attempt was scuttled. The Maryland suburbs were not an ideal location for a Washington-based team.

In 2014 came a third and final attempt by a new set of team owners of DC United to build a stadium in Washington, DC. With an ownership group led by Jason Levien, Mayor Vincent Gray was amenable to exploring the possibility of ensuring that Major League Soccer would stay in the nation’s capital. In the absence of a stadium deal, a move for the team out of the DC area seemed inevitable.

The city identified a possible location at Buzzard Point, an area of Southwest DC at the confluence of the Anacostia and the Potomac rivers. At the time, Buzzard point was a collection of parking lots, open fields and industry. The main businesses there were an iron and steel recycling center, a cement plant and a Pepco electricity substation. A coast guard office building was on its way out. An empty power plant with huge smokestacks dotted the skyline. The main attraction of Buzzard Point was its iconic name and its 2-block proximity to a relatively new Nationals baseball stadium. The allure for the city was the possibility of making Buzzard Point and Navy Yard neighborhoods a dynamic sports corridor.

In June 2014, season ticket holder David Rusk was perusing the comments on Black & Red United (B&RU), a website dedicated to the exploits of fans of the DC United soccer team. Among the comments, he found a posting by Donald Wine, a leader of the local USA national soccer team chapter of the American Outlaws, the main supporters’ group for the men’s US national team. Wine had a link to testimony that he would present to the DC City Council in support of the new DC United Stadium.

David thought to himself, “Heck, I should go testify before the City Council.” The council was preparing a request for proposal (RFP) for an economic-cost benefit study of the stadium. David read the RFP. One of the council directives in the RFP--a 10-year time frame for evaluating costs and benefits--leaped off the pages at him. The 10-year time frame would certainly make the proposal appear to be a bad investment for DC. As a former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, he was in charge of an $80 million financial improvement budget. He went to the City Council meeting armed with his written testimony about the unfair requirement for the stadium to be fiscally beneficial for the city in just 10 years.

During David’s testimony, Doug Barnes was watching the proceedings live on his computer. The testimony of David Rusk on the limited time frame resonated with him. He had worked at the World Bank for 25 years and had reviewed and completed many cost-benefit studies for large energy infrastructure projects.

The next day he was reading the comments section of a B&RU article, and he saw the plea by David for someone who knows cost-benefit analysis for large projects. Doug decided to jump into the fray. He emailed David and together they produced a report that called into question the 10-year time frame of the cost-benefit study. The second of the three lead DC citizen advocates for the DC United stadium was in place.

The third member of the team was Tod Lindberg, likewise a DCU season-ticket holder, though of more recent vintage than Doug and David. He had been closely following the stadium correspondence on B&RU, including David and Doug’s emerging initiative. Tod contacted them to offer his 30 years’ experience in DC as an editor and writer to complement their expertise in municipal affairs and infrastructure projects. His specialty was to make sure their advocacy, including the arcana of municipal financing, was clear and direct. Together, the three announced the formation of an independent grass-roots advocacy group, District Citizens United for a Soccer Stadium.

Mayor Gray was defeated in the 2013 elections and once again the stadium seemed to be in limbo. But after some back and forth negotiations with the team, Mayor-Elect Muriel Bowser announced her commitment to getting a deal done for the new stadium. The stadium deal with signed into Law by Mayor Vincent Gray on December 30, 2014.

Three and a half years later, in July 2018, the stadium opened and is now considered one of the best venues for soccer in the country. At 20,000 capacity, it’s not the biggest stadium, but it has very steep seats putting fans right on top of the action, a state-of-the-art drainage system, a rooftop bar open to all, food menus prepared by celebrity chef Jose Andreas and a historic location at Buzzard Point.

Before and After images of the DC United Stadium at Buzzard Point
Buzzard Point before and During DCU Stadium Construction, 2014 and 2018
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
After 10 years of disappointment, the persistence of the team, the city, and the local citizen advocates paved the way for the new soccer stadium. At the end of the successful citizen campaign for DC United to have a stadium in downtown Washington, DC, B&RU posted an article on the 11 DC United supporters who contributed the most to the success of the stadium campaign. The article had central defenders, fullbacks and midfielders. The three forward positions were given to David Rusk, Doug Barnes, and Tod Lindberg, with the caption, “These guys are real finishers.”
View of DC United Soccer Stadium field and Stands before 2018 game.
New DC United Stadium Pregame View from South Stands, 2018
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
This site is dedicated to soccer in Washington, DC. The topics covered will be determined by broad issues relevant to the soccer community. Initially, the issues covered will be articles from the approval of the DC United stadium and a fictional series depicting the new DC United stadium at Buzzard Point.

Many, if not most, of these now historical essays appeared on the Black & Red United SB Nation website. We are extremely grateful to the editors of the Black & Red United for giving our work high visibility during the stadium approval campaign. The articles will be slowly added in the order in which they were written. Other topics will be addressed as they become relevant.

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