Loose Lips

Even Tommy Wells Isn’t Sure About the D.C. United Stadium

Lame duck Mayor Vince Gray is facing a tough fight convincing the D.C. Council to back the D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, but he shouldn't have to worry about wooing Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells. Until recently, Wells' vote was assured, since the stadium will be in his ward. Wells wasn't a passive supporter, either—after the plan was announced last year, Wells sat down with LL and puzzled over how many councilmembers would need to be persuaded into backing the deal.

Now Wells has changed his mind. In an ominous change of heart for Gray and the soccer team, Wells tells LL that he's leaning towards voting against the stadium now that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson's budget cuts streetcar funding. With Mendelson's detractors saying that the streetcar line to Buzzard Point and the stadium is endangered by the switch, Wells says he can't back the stadium if it lacks new public transit, even though it would be close to Metro's Green Line.

“Now that the Council has gutted that, I can’t in good conscience support a 20,000-seat venue with no new transit infrastructure," Wells says.

Without a streetcar, Wells says that the city should consider locating the stadium elsewhere and developing Buzzard Point's industrial areas into residential ones. While Wells won't be a permanent impediment on the Council to stadium plans—he's leaving his seat in January, after giving it up to run unsuccessfully for mayor—he would be able to be part of any opposition while Gray is in office. A Gray spokesman didn't respond to a LL's call about Wells' switch.

Wells says he isn't concerned that moving the stadium elsewhere or quashing it entirely would stunt his ward's economy.

“There’s $14 billion of development in Ward 6," Wells says. "It’s not like we’re hurting for development."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • cityzen

    For $150 million, couldn't we just build DC United a new stadium at RFK (which could also be used for other purposes), and bypass the sweetheart deals for big developers? Maybe the Buzzard Point deal is too complex. I subscribe to the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid.

  • Kevin

    Welcome to the debate, cityzen.

    Answer: No, we can't. It's federal land. And United must own their stadium in order to be profitable (they have lost money every year since they were founded in '96).

    And it's not a "sweetheart" deal for anyone.

  • TakomaNick


    Why would we spend a couple million dollars to prop up a soccer team that has lost money since they were founded almost 20 years ago? If it's just so DC can have it's own professional soccer team then that seems like a waste of money.

  • Chris


    It seems that Kevin didn't explain properly. DC United is losing money because of the barbarically expensive rental rates at RFK. As long as they continue to pay rent there, they would never be profitable.

    Without those payments, they'd likely make a profit, just like every other MLS team that controls its own stadium.

  • Sgc

    The District is in the hole 7-figures a year on RFK. (And the team pays no property taxes because it's all owned by the government).

    If DC United left RFK for Buzzard Point:
    a) The District would begin to collect property tax where RFK used to be (the Feds have a development plan that includes tax-generating property)
    b) Even if there were a zero balance year-on-year, that's already an immediate boost to District finances just not having the above losses.
    c) But it would only stay at zero-balance for 5 years. After that the taxes step up piece by piece to the full tax bill, plus a $2 surcharge for each ticket sold.

  • TCompton

    Got to assume that Wells is making a play for something new to keep his support.

    Also got to think that if this deal falls through, DC United will either fold or move to a new city and rebrand as a new team (St Louis?).

  • mikedc

    It appears Kevin Paine still lives in the area. Of course, DC is being asked to prop up an insolvent business, DC United. They would have built their own stadium if the money was there. Its not the rent, RFK does not provide the revenue streams of a new stadium.

  • yoyo232

    Even if the land gets developed as residential (a huge if considering whats there now), wouldn't there still be an increased amount of traffic from new residences and businesses? Probably just a power play by Wells as that argument alone does not make sense.

  • cityzen

    Thanks, Kevin, for the respectful and informative reply. But my understanding is DC United would own the stadium at Buzzard Point, but not the underlying land - that would still belong to the District. Why not a similar arrangement at RFK? Sweetheart or not, an RFK project would not involve any land swaps of any kind with private developers.

  • okeydokey

    I love watching all the DCU fans come out of the woodwork, trying desperately to say or do anything to help their favorite billionare vanity toy.

    Fact, no one wants DCU. DCU fans can try to convince us all that they will go elsewhere, but you have short memories. When their original Poplar Point deal fell apart in 2008 (cause ya know...biggest recession since the great depression), DCU courted PG County, City of Baltimore, Fairfax and Loudoun County all in a period of 18 months.

    The resounding answer from all of them? Go pound sand DCU. They aren't going anywhere.

    And can someone explain how a team that supposedly can't afford ~1.5 million a year in stadium rent, can afford to finance a new 150 million dollar stadium?

    Oh, and for the record, I thought the baseball stadium was also a ridiculous giveaway to billionares, but atleast the City set up a special tax to pay for the damn thing, which is now actually producing a surplus. DC doesn't try to set up a similar arrnagement with DCU because no one cares about soccer and the business community would never agree to it.

    Lastly, RFK is the perfect place to put this. Existing metro stop on the property, tons of open space. So what if the feds own it? They own it now and let us build an operate RFK. How difficult would it be to negotiate a new deal? No instead we have to engage in highly suspect and shady "land swaps" that are as black-box as it gets. The ONLY reason for the land swap, rather than the city simply purchasing the parcel, and selling Reeves for FMV is so that the city can hide the actual outlay of taxpayer money.

    These flagrant taxpayer giveaways to billionares is simply ridiculous, and even the city having to spend hundreds of millions on "infrastructure" for some billionares stadium is beyond the pale. It would be like DC spending 150 million to build a new port that could accomodate some billionares yacht. "Oh, but he payed for the yacht!".

  • Fabrisse

    As well he should. It's terrible to put a stadium on a penninsula next to a military base because it creates vast traffic issues that cannot easily be remedied. 4th street SW can't be widened without impinging on Fort Meade. And heaven forbid that there's soccer and baseball on the same day.

  • Skeptic

    Excellent -- I'd love to see both streetcars and stadium deals die. Both are vanity projects rather than investments that will improve the quality of life of DC residents.

  • Kev29

    "When their original Poplar Point deal fell apart in 2008 (cause ya know...biggest recession since the great depression)"

    The plan was killed by Fenty before the recession because he was trying to look like a hard-ass "no giveaways to developers" mayor (to cover up for the fact that he was giving away land to developers). And how did that work out? The only thing currently sitting on Poplar Point is more dead bodies. Then Fenty got thrown out of office by the residents of Wards 8 and 7.

    This deal could die over an argument about maybe 15-20 million in valuation difference for the Reeves Center plot. The result will probably be no stadium which would lead to no development at Buzzard Point (let's be honest, nothings happened there through many concepts for development), no government office east of the river, no expensive new condos at 14th and U adding to the tax base (more valuable than Jim Graham's precious Reeves office workers adding to the lunchtime economy - LULZ) and no new plan for the RFK site.

  • Corky

    It's just a stupid idea. That's why he should vote against it. It seems that no one is considering the added cost the District will incur by giving up the DC owned Reeves Center and moving and housing all of those agencies in leased space to the tune of millions of tax payer dollars a year ad infinitum. It doesn't make economic sense to move from rent free space to costly leased space. And nobody cares about soccer anyway.

  • Ward1United

    it will be disappointing if Wells backs out of this deal over Phil's streetcar ideas. DCU should have a good stadium and the city should do what it usually does and ensure there is decent infrastructure for development...which is fair and square. the concept of this project has so many upsides it goes far beyond just the stadium. 3 different wards are going to add amazing capacity/interest to their communities.

  • Josh

    If DC doesn't build me a new house, I'm moving to St. Louis. Think of all the jobs that will be created by my new house. And don't forget: I've done volunteer work for the city!

    My new house will attract many visitors to the nation's capital. It will practically pay for itself.

  • davidr


    I'll visit but only if your house has a Ben's Chili Bowl in it.

  • DCCavalier

    I am a long time soccer fan and been following and rooting for DC United since day 1. The problem with getting a stadium since 2007 is the people who have owned/operated the team since then have leveraged it as a pawn for larger development deals, not for a soccer stadium for the team.

    Five years ago, the city of Vancouver, BC built a 27,000 seat stadium to be the "temporary" home of the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS and British Columbia Lions of the CFL. THE COST WAS LESS THAN $12M US!

    It was built because the city's 60,000 seat domed stadium, BC Place, was being renovated and used for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

    By all accounts the temporary stadium that was built was very good and thats even after architects were told to dumb it down and not make it too nice or else the Vancouver and Canadian citizenry would ask why did they agree to renovate BC Place for $500M CDN. A 20,000 seat soccer stadium to be used 30 times a year should NOT be a $150M cost to the city.

    Two things....

    First, DC United needs to squat or get off the pot. If RFK is so bad and its not a favorable deal and the team is losing money then broker a deal to move to Fed Ex Field, college stadiums Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Byrd Stadium, or build up soccer stadiums at George Mason or the Soccerplex in Boyds to use temporarily until a permanent stadium is found. If its that bad MOVE and stop whinning. OR TWO....The city should find a place, maybe the first two places they almost had a deal before 2007 with a stadium at RFK Lot 8, or Poplar Point BUT just 10 to 12 acres of a footprint for a stadium only. No larger development flim-flam such as been talked about the last 7 years.

    As a DC taxpayer I dont want the city to sign off on the deal on the table as described in the press. Too many developers palms are being greased.

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