To Build or Not to Build… Who wants a soccer stadium in Ward 8?

An aerial view of the proposed development in Poplar Point
Courtesy Clark Realty

The development of Poplar Point would fundamentally change the character of Ward 8, long known as the most economically disadvantaged and restaurant/retail-deprived area of the city. For years, residents have pondered what should become of this 110-acre parcel of land on the banks of the Anacostia River. Now, the city is considering a major development plan created by Clark Realty, which would include two distinct shopping areas, mixed housing, 70 acres of public parkland and a space option for D.C. United’s next soccer stadium, which would require public funding. While the possibility of a sports arena enthralls some, it repels others. This week, we talk to members of communities and hear their takes on the issue:

PRO:

There’s no adjective that I can think of that really describes how intensely I am for it. Having the stadium here in Ward 8 will make this ward a destination point for people in the metropolitan area. In my mind, there are practically no stores that they could put on that point that people could not access is their own communities. So, just putting in retail will not make Poplar Point a destination point, neither will it make it a destination point by just having mixed-income housing. Although the waterfront is there and there will be green space and we would want visitors, why would people think that someone living in Fairfax is going to necessarily come over to enjoy the green space at Poplar point, when there’s plenty of green space in that county? But, soccer will draw people because if you’re soccer fan, you’ll have to come over to where the action is.
-Philip Pannell, Executive Director of Anacostia Coordinating Council

I support the complete development package, which is very important to the new Ward 8. We would get some amenities that we’ve been missing for over 30 years…I work in the District, but I can’t spend my money in the District. All you have is Macy’s downtown! Where can I spend my money? I don’t necessarily want to see department stores. You can have boutiques and other stores. The majority of the local people are [in support of the stadium development plan]. I’ll doubt if you’ll find one that’s not. The soccer crowds will be good for the city, just like the baseball stadium. When you have these different sport activities, people enjoy that. That’s their relaxation, and that’s what they need.
-Mary Cuthbert, Ward 8 ANC commissioner

These days, nobody’s coming to Ward 8 unless you live here. Your cousin might visit you. Once we get the soccer thing and the retail, we’ll have things to give a person a reason to come over to Ward 8. Right now, we got nothing, nothing, nothing…You look at a tourist map downtown, we’re not on it. But then, they’ll expand that map. [Laughs.] We need people to come in and spend money. It’s nice to have visitors; we don’t want them to move here. But, they can visit. Then, we can feel like we’re part of the District. Right now, we’re the only ones here—we can see each other everyday. This would bring a different type of visitor…They pay taxes; the stadium people will be paying taxes; the vendors will pay for their licenses. It will bring in revenue, so Ward 8 can pay its fair share, because right now, we don’t have much to pay in taxes.
-Sandra Seegars, candidate for Ward 8 Councilmember

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CON:

I’m always in favor of development and improvement. If you start addressing the quality of life issues first, then I can support a soccer stadium if they were to do that. But, I don’t support anything with this cost. I mean look at the stadium across the river. I’m not in favor of throwing the money in the black hole again. Take care of what needs to be taken care of now, and that’s the people that are here now, not the people, who when you do your projection at the office of planning, and see the type of income that it’s going to sustain the community, blah-bidee-blah, 10, 15 years later. You know, we’re talking now: I would like to see more than one hospital and nursing homes. The two nursing homes that I know over here are horrible. Let’s fix them. Let’s staff them. We’re talking about mental health clinics, recreation centers, low income housing.
-David Brown, resident for 30 years

I’ve been to meetings. I’ve heard people’s pros and cons, and I’ve pretty much been against it from the beginning. And now that I’ve heard it’s going to be built partially with public funds, I’m even more against it. I’m a real outdoorsey type person. Once you lay concrete, it’s hard to take it up, and have a natural setting again, and even though they’re proposing it’s going to have a low impact design, it’s still going to be a major impact on the environment. It’s going to be an impact on the river—and we all know what condition that that’s in. Poplar Point is such a small area, for one. And I know people think visitors are going to be using the Metro, but the stadium’s still going to bring so much traffic. Plus, with everything else they’re going to build on Poplar Point—the area’s not that big.
-Crystal Banks, lifelong Southeast resident

Our Readers Say

I can understand both the PROS and CONS of this subject but I would be very careful about what I support because both plans will bring additional traffic into the area. Also I am skeptical whenever politicians and developers say there will be some affordable housing because it ends up being the opposite. Also will the people in Ward 8 get a say in the retail and restaurants that will be there are will they have places there to attract a different crowd to the area.

What about building a medical complex there to include hospital, rehab center, and nursing home. Here's a novel idea why not build a recreation center/sports arena.
I am a resident of Ward 2 and a soccer fan. For me the lure for Ward 8 is that I can't imagine anything else built on the project would lure my dollars there. But if DC United plays there 20 times a year, I will be in the habit of going. And if there's development of the kind that definitely does not surround RFK, I will notice that.

So the question is, do you want me to spend my money there?
I think the overall package is great, but I'm against a stadium. The problem with stadiums is that people tend to go to the game and leave. I have visited many stadiums in this area and across the nation. The area immediately around a stadium is always depressed. I don't see how this would help ward 8, but if one is only concerned about tax revenues and not the people then the stadium is a good idea.
@Maya

The area around RFK is depressed because nobody thought to plan development there. When a stadium is built as a single magic bullet, it doesn't generally work to spur development, sure. But when the stadium is built as the anchor, or the main draw to an area, and the surrounding area is developed to pull from, and build on, that draw, it can be very successful. Look at the Phone Booth and what's happened in Chinatown. Also, look at the millions of dollars that have already been invested by developers in Near Southeast since construction began on the new ballpark (including Victor MacFarlane, one of the principal owners of DC United). As a fan, I love having a place near the stadium to grab a bite before a game and a drink after, and I know I'm not alone there.
I'll say up front that I am a DC United fan, and as much as I love DCU I'm also a longtime DC resident who loves this city more. Wasting taxpayers' dollars when our schools are crumbling is unacceptable.

That said, I support the stadium. THIS IS NOT LIKE THE BASEBALL STADIUM DEAL. The city is being asked to provide funding for infrastructure that would have to be done for ANY kind of development (roads, sewers, power, etc., plus environmental cleanup). And the stadium is only going to be a smart part of the overall development.

I opposed the Nat's stadium deal because it was a giant giveaway to MLB. DCU has always offered to pay for the stadium. DC United will leave the city if they don't get a new home. It's not an idle threat. Despite a growing fan base they are losing money because they don't get revenue streams from their own stadium (RFK). Many who don't care about soccer won't care, but DCU outdraws the Caps and probably equals the draw of the Wizards (fewer games, though, to be sure).

As long as this is a sound business deal for the city, I say build it.
I think Philip Pannell hit the nail on the head. You want to bring revenue into your Ward, right? People won't travel to spend tourism dollars or retail dollars because you've developed a few commercial areas with stores, you have to have something that will draw consumers away from their normal routines and bring them into Ward 8. Plus increased revenue and tax dollars opens up the path for more future development only that time you'll be doing it with an established infrastructure and a consumer-draw, namely a soccer specific stadium that would draw on average 20,000 every other week.

Econ 101, the multiplier effect, look it up.
Sandra Seegars' comment (below) makes me sick. A sentiment with such overt racist overtones has absolutely no place in American politics. So tell us, Sandra, exactly who are the "them" who should spend their money in your ward, but who you don't want to see living there?

"We need people to come in and spend money. It’s nice to have visitors; we don’t want them to move here. But, they can visit. Then, we can feel like we’re part of the District. ...because right now, we don’t have much to pay in taxes."
-Sandra Seegars, candidate for Ward 8 Councilmember
Crystal--Poplar Point is going to need public funds regardless of a stadium being built as the infrastructure needs to be developed.

The costs of building the stadium, on the other hand, were ALWAYS going to be paid for by DC United. This is not in any way the same hoodwinking that Major League Baseball pulled on the city.

In addition, the stadium is not a parkland/environment versus concrete issue. If it the area does not include a stadium, then you'll get blocks of concrete apartments that look sort of like Crystal City, etc.
Mr. D, I suppose it's better late than never. The "them" as it is clearly stated in my statement are visitors. That's it and that's all. Please stop trying to read something into my statemant that is not there.

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