WASHINGTON, D.C.—The main parcel of land that D.C. United’s new stadium will sit on is already largely empty. It’s not terribly hard to imagine a soccer pitch there – there’s already an empty parking lot at 2nd and S Street SW.
There is one building on that lot, however: a nondescript, corrugated metal maintenance shed. And on Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a host of others took turns chewing away at it, using an excavator to tear a good chunk of it down as part of a demolition ceremony.
From a safe distance, United head coach Ben Olsen looked on, smiling. “I would’ve liked to take a bite at that thing,” Olsen joked. “But I wasn’t on the docket today … I’d have gone for the beams. I’ve got a lot of stress to relieve.”
“I think this is a big step,” Olsen continued. “We’re not going underground, but each one of these now, the reality sets in a little more for those of us that have been around for the ups and downs of getting this stadium. It’s real now. For the next year-and-a-half, it’s gonna be an exciting time. We’re gonna have more exciting moments going under the concrete and watching this thing grow.”
Olsen, along with D.C. United’s fan base, have waited a long time for this.
For nearly 10 years, stadium deals failed to coalesce, including potential moves to Maryland or Northern Virginia. Through it all, D.C.’s faithful remained steadfast, somehow managing to remain hopeful, even while muttering what’s come to be a catchphrase: “I’ll believe it when there are shovels in the ground.”
There were no shovels on Monday – those will come at the end of 2016, according to United, who are targeting the winter for their groundbreaking. But there were chrome-dipped, DC flag-emblazoned ceremonial sledgehammers, hard hats bearing United’s new logo and a host of cameras and microphones, as well.
Bowser, who just a few weeks ago climbed into a different excavator to break ground on the Washington Wizards’ new training facility across town, looked at ease manning the machinery. After touting the positives of the stadium deal – 1,000 construction-related and permanent jobs, hires that will be made primarily in Ward 6, where the stadium is located – Bowser climbed a ladder into the excavator and promptly tore the face off of the building.
United managing general partner Jason Levien was up next, hopping in and adding to Bowser’s work, smiling ear-to-ear.
D.C. United Stadium – the stadium will likely be renamed – wasn’t a walk in the park to get done, something D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson eagerly mentioned to the crowd. “In 2014, there were a lot of folks who said the council would never approve this,” Mendelson said. “And we did.” On Monday, the months of negotiations and hang-ups seemed firmly in the rear view.
"This building signifies the next step in our club's evolution, yet will continue to represent our core values as we become a catalyst in the economic development of this southwest waterfront district," Levien said, in a team statement. "This stadium, previously only a dream, is now a tangible marker of our progress. Very soon we will hear the opening whistle for the first time, right here."
Even for all the glee displayed by politicians and team officials, the fifty or so United fans who showed up – including a handful of “96ers,” season ticket holders from the club’s inception – seemed most joyous of all on Monday. Each chunk that came out of the building brought another round of applause.
Afterwards, a young United fan posed for a photo with D.C. ‘keeper Bill Hamid. “Are you excited?” a reporter asked. The youngster smiled widely and nodded his head.