WASHINGTON - With the final votes tallied and the celebratory bottles popped, fans of D.C. United are only just now wrapping their heads around what exactly happened earlier this week.
On Wednesday, the D.C. City Council passed legislation paving the way for construction of a soccer stadium on Buzzard Point in Southwest D.C., putting an end to United’s decade-long quest to find a new home of their own. Fans of the club who’ve long been asking "when" now find themselves asking another question:
"We’re going to work hand in hand with the city, there’s environmental work that needs to be done, the land acquisition needs to be completed, but we’re raring to go,” United Managing General Partner Jason Levien told MLSsoccer.com after the council vote on Wednesday. “We have a very close relationship with the District and we feel as though we can move expeditiously to make this happen.”
As much as United would like to break out the shovels today, there remains some work to do. The city hasn’t yet acquired a large swath of the land the stadium will sit on, and it is in negotiations with private developer Akridge to reach an accord on that as soon as possible. The city is also now authorized the use of eminent domain, if necessary, to acquire Akridge’s share of the land if a deal cannot be reached.
"We’re going to be working closely with the parties involved,” added Levien. "After today, the lights go off - but nothing changes as far as the work we need to do. We’ll make sure we get things moving. This is obviously an important moment, but we’ve still got to execute.”
Akridge had stood to gain a key piece of real estate in the deal’s original incarnation - the Reeves Center, a government facility in the rapidly growing U Street Corridor - in exchange for the land at Buzzard Point. But city officials realized that a more palatable option would be to simply borrow additional funds to finance their portion of the stadium investment.
"We were very close to our partners at Akridge,” Levien said. “We were in the trenches with them for close to two years. They were very good partners and we wanted to see a positive outcome for them as well. But this certainly had to work for the city, and I think the District and the Council were speaking for a long period of time saying that it just wasn’t palatable, having [the] Reeves [Center] in there.
"It was difficult, there are a lot of moving parts, [but] we think we have a deal we can live with and deliver on for the fans and the district."
Levien speculated on Wednesday that ground will be broken on the stadium in “late 2015.” The stadium’s design remains a work in progress, as does a search for an architect and builder. The club worked with global architectural firm Populous -- who've previously handled MLS projects in Houston, Kansas City and Orlando, among others -- to create renderings for the new venue, but hasn’t yet signed them on to design and build it.
“We want to be efficient in what we do and we think we’ve got a real partner here in the District of Columbia," said Levien. "They’ve shown their support and their commitment. This mayor has, the city council has, and so we’re going to continue that dialogue until we have a first-class product.
“We’re going to hit the ground running."