10 January 2007

Houses in Motion: Progress on the New DC United Stadium Will Be Scrutinized by Everyone


Yes, a long post warning. But this time I think you should read it.

The Background: One of the panelists at last night's "Blogger Summit" hosted by Washing Post-Newsweek Interactive was Marc Fisher, a name well known to the soccer community. The author of a regular metro column and the Raw Fisher blog did not disappoint, as he told the audience he read a number of local politics and sports blogs, including Nationals blogs, but then felt the need to point out he didn't read DC United blogs. Sigh.

All that being said, I grabbed a quick word with him in between sessions. If you'd like, you may berate my cowardice for not opening my conversation with "Mr. Fisher, why do you hate all that is good about America?" Instead we spoke briefly about soccer, and what caught my attention is how interested he is in the entire stadium debate, and specifically Mayor Fenty's initial friendliness to the idea of some public financing for the stadium.

To date, D.C. United has been working quietly in building its support for the stadium deal and reinforcing its community outreach programs. All of that will come under the glare of the local politics angle soon. While Fenty, Brown, Gray, and Barry are supportive now, one only has to look at the various late night conversions during the DC City Council's debate on the Nationals stadium to know that things can change quickly. If you want a more recent example, you can always look west as well. Add to this the fact that Fenty was one of the more outspoken opponents of the stadium deal, and you can just imagine the delight with which stadium opponents will throw the charge of hypocracy at Fenty.

The Coming Debate: Yes, there will be stadium opponents. Take it as a given. Even if Victor MacFarlane, Will Chang, and Crazy Uncle Moneybags pay for the land to the stadium, the construction of the stadium, the land for devevlopment, the parking lots, and all the city ponies up for is a new traffic light at Martin Luther King Jr Ave and Talbert St, there will be cries that Fenty has reversed himself and is supporting corporate welfare. There will be people that view any development of the area other than schools, low-income single-family or multi-family housing as displacement through gentrification. In fact, to some degree, these voices are already starting to come out. Since there's no plan on the table for everyone to yell at each other about, there's no reason to think they have much of a case. But the early indications from D.C. United are that the easiest objections to the plan will be answered. They must be.

Let's set the basic ground-rules. This deal requires two things to come off: It must be sufficiently profitable for D.C. United's owners, and also politically supportable by the D.C. City Council. We can assume that any plan put on the table by D.C. United will meet the first criteria, but it should be explicitly stated because you can imagine all sorts of anti-stadium opponents creating scenarios that D.C. United would (and should) never agree to. As to the second point, from my view, the D.C. City Council needs a plan that meets two goals.

  1. The Deal Must Offer the District a Return on Investment. This is important. The charge of hypocracy against anti-baseball stadium supporters fails if this point is true. Most of the anti-baseball stadium polticians consistently made the point that they felt the deal between MLB and the city was a bad deal, not that they were totally against all public support for a stadium. If D.C. United and the District have a deal that shows a reasonable return on investment for the city's contributions, then this charge is largely refuted. This won't matter to some anti-stadium people, but will matter to most people watching the debate. No doubt others will attempt to dispute the numbers proposed, but a good-faith effort will stand-up.
  2. The Deal Must Not Indicate that Ward 8 Residents Are Being Forced Out. This is the second key factor, and no doubt explains why such an emphasis has been placed on community outreach, local fields for children, and affordable housing. This deal must indicate that the Poplar Point stadium is taking a place among Ward 8's residents, not replacing them. Whether this is through setting aside a certain percentage of housing units as low-income, set asides for jobs for local businesses, or other means can be fine-tuned in the details. Again, no matter what the deal is, there are some who will scream that it is mere tokenism. However, a good-faith effort is more than possible, and is vital to ensure the continued support of the political community.

Every indication we see so far shows that D.C. United has successfully set the groundwork to exceed these challenges, and that MacFarlane and company will have a plan on the table that shows that the stadium deal is reasonable and fair to all parties involved. I'm hopeful. That being said, one of the points I've made repeatedly is that no matter how fair the deal is, it won't be enough for some, and they'll probably scream the loudest and attempt to influence people through sheer force of volume and will. That's where supporters like us will come in.

The Role for Supporters: When a plan is placed on the table, soccer supporters (especially district residents) should take the time to read it and ask themselves if it meets the criteria above. If so, then be a reasonable voice to support the deal around your water cooler, association meetings, or wherever. Soccer fans are frequently painted as insane hooligans, sometimes by media personalities in this town. While that's probably fair when describing the passion we have in supporting our team, it is manifestly unfair when it is used to imply that we have no facility for critical reasoning. We won't be able to chant our way to victory, but we can reason our way there. To understand how the stadium deal will meet this challenges will be important to all of us in shaping this debate. It matters now because the spotlight of the media and activists will now focus for the first time on what has been our private saga for so long. If they see that our ducks are in a row and our motives are decent, then I truly believe we will have a house of our own.

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At 10 January, 2007 16:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We won't be able to chant our way to victory, but we can reason our way there..."
OK, Im willing to give this a shot, but let me know as soon we can try drinking and throwing smoke bombs.

At 10 January, 2007 17:08, Blogger D said...

Oh, be sure, I'll be happy to call it out. Warpaint and all.

At 10 January, 2007 17:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thoughtful post. I particularly found this insightful: "Since there's no plan on the table for everyone to yell at each other about, there's no reason to think they have much of a case."

No doubt, we are in for stormy weather. But I fully expect the development to occur. DC needs to grow a tax base, and the development of this area is a case of making lemonade out of lemons (ok, not exactly, but you see my point).

At 10 January, 2007 18:11, Blogger D said...

Thanks Ray. I know you're not easily impressed, so you comments are highly valued.

I, too, expect the development to occur. My one worry is that anti-development forces could be whipped up into a very loud roar on the flimsiest of pretexts, and that could make the apparent support of the DCCC evaporate. So far DCU has done well, but they've done well without the skeptical gaze of the media on them. We'll see how it proceeds from now on. I'm sure a good deal for everyone involved can be fashioned, and I know it would benefit Ward 8 if it were fashioned, but that doesn't mean it'll be perceived in that manner.

At 10 January, 2007 22:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said, but IMO the stadium will not be pushed as a "soccer stadium", rather a multi-use facility providing revenue to the district, and jobs to Ward 8 other than just DCU gamedays. I am also betting that another area hit on will be the transportation improvements better connecting Ward 8 with the rest of the District + jobs found there. (not just a way to get to the games)

At 11 January, 2007 10:15, Blogger Marc said...

Excellent post--and I don't hate ALL things that are good about America. As my column today notes, the stadium is a great idea and if MacFarlane is paying for it, he should be welcomed just as Abe Pollin was when he volunteered to cough up the cash for the MCI Center. But the giveaway of riverfront land to MacFarlane's group for the hotel, housing and other parts of the development is another story entirely--and that's where the political battle will and should rage.


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