WASHINGTON — D.C. United fans are ecstatic about plans for a new stadium, but many are wary that the deal could still fall apart.
“I think everybody is just trying to take it all in and remain positive, but also a little hesitant at the same time because this has obviously happened a few times in the past and it’s kind of been yanked away. But this feels a little bit more real,” Eric Mann says.
As a member of one of the D.C United supporters groups, La Norte, Mann is looking forward to a new soccer-specific stadium with traditional seating behind the goals, and is hoping ticket prices will be reasonable.
The deal between the team and the city calls for the stadium to be substantially completed by no later than Jan. 1, 2017. But the goal is to open the stadium earlier – in time for the 2016 MLS season, which typically begins around March.
“It’s pretty obvious they need it,” said James, a fan who only gave his first name, as he dropped off his 7-year-old son at D.C United’s summer camp. “I can remember RFK when I was a little kid and I’m 45 now, so it’s probably reached the end of its life.”
The agreement announced Thursday leaves the city and the team a number of ways out of the deal. The first milestone requires the District to have control, or nearly have control, of all the land needed for the stadium by Jan. 1.
The city says it will have demolition and utility work done at the stadium site by March 2015, including approval to permanently close alleys or streets needed for the stadium at Buzzard Point.
D.C. United’s design for the stadium must also be done by March 2015, with a construction contract in place by July 2015. A clause allows the District to get out of the deal if the construction contract is not signed by March 2017 — more than a year after the tentatively planned opening.
“RFK Stadium is definitely historic where it stands, and the games and matches that were played in it have left lasting memories for the fans of D.C. United and the Redskins, but I think it’s time to move on for sure. The Redskins have already moved on, and I think it’s time for D.C. United to do the same,” says Justice Woods, a D.C. United fan who lives in Capitol Hill.
The stadium site across from Fort McNair is about a 15-minute walk from the Waterfront and Navy Yard-Ballpark Metro stations. As part of the agreement, the District will look at speeding up the construction of the new Buzzard Point/Downtown streetcar line and add a streetcar stop across from the stadium.
There are no concrete plans for parking in the deal, but the District believes that Nationals Park lots may be able to help when the teams are not playing at the same time. The term sheet says “the Parties will work cooperatively together to address parking to serve the Stadium Project.”
“I think parking lot space is always necessary for any sporting event not just for cars to park, but for fans to interact. It’s a huge part of the game to feel like you know the person next to you or actually care about the other people who are in the stands,” Woods says.
Right now, fans often join large tailgates in in RFK Stadium’s Lot 8. But the deal gives D.C. United the right to build other facilities besides the stadium on the site that would be meant “to enhance the game day experience for patrons.”
As part of the deal, D.C. United has agreed not to negotiate with any other cities or developers until at least October. Once the more detailed transaction agreements are signed, United agrees it will stay for the entire length of the groundlease which will “be approximately equal to the estimated useful life of the Stadium.”
The deal also calls for D.C. United to try to put its new practice facility somewhere inside D.C.
The team has won four MLS Cup titles but this season has the worst record in the MLS (2-14-4).
United is still alive in the U.S. Open Cup. But with the team struggling this season, fans are excited to have some positive news.
“This is pretty much the only bright spot I think that’s probably going to come from this season. It definitely came at the right time,” Mann, of the supporters group, says.