New ownership group keys on D.C. stadium

For months on end, D.C. United officials have been consistently tight-lipped about their quest for a new stadium for the four-time MLS Cup champions, signaling that they view the ongoing negotiations with local politicians and city officials as a complicated and delicate situation.

But last week's announcement of United's sale to Global Sports and Entertainment for what the Washington Post reported to be $26 million was rife with references to the future facility -- and optimism that the ownership change could quicken the pace of those negotiations.

Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, joined United president and CEO Kevin Payne in expressing excitement about the potential for a new soccer-specific facility in the District of Columbia, most likely at Poplar Point on the southern bank of the Anacostia River.

Leiweke described United's new owners as "very passionate about the future of a development that will create a cathedral for soccer for D.C. United," and later added, "if not for the depth, and in particular the commitment that this group has made towards a soccer-specific stadium, we would not sell this franchise."

For his part, Payne was effusive about AEG's successes in Los Angeles and the model for construction and urban redevelopment they offered.

"AEG has shown the way with The Home Depot Center, which has turned the fortunes of the Galaxy around 180 degrees," said the longtime United executive. "Those of you who have been to that facility understand the dream, the vision that we all share for the kind of theater that we can provide for what we consider to be the world's greatest sport.

"AEG (also) demonstrated this with the Staples Center," said Payne, referring to the massive arena which serves as home to the NBA's Lakers and Clippers, as well as the NHL's Kings. "They went to a part of L.A. that nobody believed could be vital again. They created one of the world's greatest buildings. And they are now conducting the rest of the urban in-fill around it, and there's a whole new marketplace in Los Angeles now. ... That's a model that we think is very transportable, and it's one that we intend to pursue."

However, United's relationship with Mayor Anthony Williams and other District representatives has been complicated -- in a number of ways -- by the arrival of baseball's Washington Nationals.

The relocation of the former Montreal Expos was contingent upon the city's construction of a new baseball stadium, to be located near the Washington Navy Yard across the Anacostia from Poplar Point and now expected to cost upwards of $600 million. In the meantime, baseball's return to the District has forced the Black-and-Red into an uncomfortable ground-sharing arrangement at RFK Stadium.

District politics tend to be convoluted and combustible, as overlapping federal, regional and municipal authorities face off over contentious issues amid constant budgetary constraints. It's a setting that Payne will navigate carefully as he seeks to create a public-private partnership to facilitate the construction of United's new home, which he hopes to have operational by 2008.

The city would provide land for a privately funded, mixed-use development including youth soccer fields and concert facilities, with the centerpiece being a 25,000 to 27,000-seat soccer stadium similar to The Home Depot Center.

With D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission chairman Mark Tuohey in attendance, Payne used last week's press conference as a chance to publicly post notice of United's commitment to the District -- and subtly prod the DCSEC as well.

"We believe very, very deeply in Washington, D.C. We think that his city has made a remarkable turnaround under the stewardship of Mayor Williams and his administration," he said. "We're already invested in this city, and we look forward to being part of the new renaissance of Washington, D.C. in the years to come.

"We've been working very, very hard with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the city administration to develop those plans," he continued. "Those two entities are working on a proposal for us, a site and a way to move forward. We're absolutely convinced that working together, we will find an opportunity that will be fantastic for our organization, for the sport in general and for our city, and we really look forward to that day."

MLS Commissioner Don Garber echoed those hopes at the United-Chelsea friendly that same evening, and described himself as "optimistic" about the prospects for a new stadium, based in large part on the real estate expertise of Global's primary investors, Willi Lauterbach and Tim Kissler.

Now United fans can only hope that city officials get on board, too.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.