21 September 2007

Poplar Point Positions

A few reader emails that I'd like to get to. First, James emailed us to let us know of a grass-roots group has an online petition supporting Poplar Point. Now, the more cynical among us will ask "what good will that do?" Forget that, ask yourself instead "Can do this any harm, and could it possibly do good?" If just one person looks at this and realizes that Poplar Point is not something wanted only by money-craving, poor-people-hating, baby-eating developers, then that's good enough for me. Consider me signed on board.

However, while I tend to support Poplar Point, reader Larry Leister emailed us these thoughts towards an argument that perhaps renovating RFK ain't a bad idea, and he's given the okay to reproduce his thoughts in-full here:

DCenters Folks,

Since you seem willing to take on topics of some length, I'll offer the following for consideration. I've not seen this discussed, but if it has been just delete this note.

I realize that the following idea will most likely not be to the liking of the owners of DC United since the profit potential would seem to be much less than a new stadium at Poplar Point (I'm sure creative developers can figure out how to work with this idea). However, if the issue at hand is limited to providing a suitable stadium for DC United, I would think this idea would have some merit. My guess is that part of the foot dragging on the part of the DC city government related to the building of a stadium at Poplar Point is due to the fact that the city would be left with a decaying RFK stadium with no tenants and no prospects.

So the proposal is for the city to sell RFK stadium, parking lots and all to DC United for some token amount.

  • The cost to the city should be less than what would be required for the Poplar Point stadium.
  • The revenue from game related events available to DC United should be the same as it would be at Poplar Point. Granted the ancillary revenue from other buildings/development would be much less or non-existent.
  • The money that would have been spent on the Poplar Point stadium could be spent on refurbishing RFK. I have no idea what the underlying infrastructure of RFK is like, but if Yankee Stadium can be refurbished, I would assume that RFK could be also. As the refurbishing costs could be significant, funding from the city might be part of the deal since a city landmark would be retained and improved.

This seems to be a win-win (again not considering the loss of development profit).

  • The city gets rid of a stadium for which there are no tenants nor little apparent future
  • DC United gets the additional revenue from owning the stadium and concessions.
  • MLS gets to keep one of it's landmark stadiums

One of the benefits of soccer specific stadiums is the seating capacity that is sized closer to the expected attendance.

Staying in RFK would seem to defeat that, although this does not seem to be as much of an issue for DC United as it is for many clubs. However, I have a suggestion for that as well.

Part of the refurbishment, in addition to aligning the seats so that they actually face the pitch, would be installing a retractable roof, actually more like two awnings made of waterproof and sound-reflecting material. These would cover the seats in the lower bowl. This would have the following advantages:

  • The field would be uncovered but the seats would be at least partially covered
  • The crowd noise would be reflected down on the field and would be absolutely incredible
  • The seats in the upper deck would be largely removed from view, thus giving the feel of a smaller stadium
  • For big events, MLS Cup, national team games, foreign club friendlies, dramatic increase in MLS regular game attendance, the awnings could be retracted and the upper deck could be used.

Just some thoughts.

Larry Leister

Now, put aside our natural desires for a home of our own, special for us, and consider this idea. I think Larry recognizes the biggest problem with his scenario: It's not what MacFarlane and company signed up for. They want the team, yes, but they also want a piece of the ancillary development, and that ain't happened with RFK. However, since Larry asks us to set that aside, let's do so. Would this work for you?

It's tough. I want to say "No, no, a thousand times no" but perhaps that's just being spoiled. I personally think that rehabbing RFK as Larry describes would be almost as costly as building a new stadium (I mean, look at the state of the concrete...) and then throwing on a roof would just sky-rocket the price. So financially, I'm not sure it is viable. But perhaps part of me is just done with RFK. I want to move on. And that's not a rational reason for opposing Larry's idea. What say you?

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At 21 September, 2007 15:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting thought experiment. To continue the exercise, a few other points: 1) I seem to recall that there is riverfront acreage around RFK, not sure if it is part of the parcel or owned by various Fed agencies, but if we are going to dream, lets say that they put up a ton of condos & stores there. Might wipe out a bit of parking but certainly this could be made up by building garages where only surface parking is located.
2) rehabbing for a smaller crowd doesn't have to happen at once. Lets say that first year you do the roof & suites. Next year the mezzanne public areas, etc... So it could sit 20k in upgraded seats by 08, the rest get what we get now, but each year you build it out more.
3) the capitol street corridor that leads to RFK is somewhat blighted now, but has great urban planning potential (and an existing metro!). Again, wouldn't be as easy as designing your own street scape, but especially if you threw the Armory in, much of that area could be redeveloped as a public plaza lined with more shops, bars, condos on top, etc...
4) to have a venue that can hold larger numbers for big events is an asset, and it might be nice to have 27k fans in upgraded but still old RFK than a max of 20k in a shiny new space.

Don't get me wrong, I think a SSS is critical and would prefer a new palace in Poplar Point, but it is interesting to think about ways to make RFK work

At 21 September, 2007 16:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't there some talk about the Redskins moving back into the district, presumably at the RFK location although not into RFK itself (a new stadium at RFK's location)? If this is even a slight reality, this idea would be moot. The DC government would never sell the land to DC United if they thought the 'skins would come back.

At 21 September, 2007 16:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love RFK. I would be really happy if something like this happened. But, I bet the owners wouldn't like it at all, and unfortunately I do not get a vote.

At 21 September, 2007 17:19, Blogger Ray said...

Nice thoughts, but they have been discussed ad nauseum.

The land is owned by government, and it presents complications at least as gnarled as those presently facing Poplar Point.

At 21 September, 2007 22:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Selling RFK to United will never happened. As mentioned above, the land is owned by the Federal Government. It is leased to the District on the condition that it used for a stadium (or something like that). If the district tries to put anything there that is not a stadium the land automatically reverts to the Feds. So really it's not the District's place to be selling anything to United. At least that is my understanding of the situation.

At 24 September, 2007 09:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The RFK site is too important to the overall plan of Washington. It is the Eastern terminus of the Capitol Street Axes that divide the city into quadrants, and I don't believe the government is going to give up the land.

Ignoring that, the cost of stabilizing and "improving" the existing structure would far outstrip the cost of demolition and building new. I like the idea of a recessed canopy at the mezzanine level, but it would require a pretty sophisticated drainage system to remove the water that would find its way to the upper concourse.

The bottom line is that regardless of whether RFK is upgraded/replaced, MLS would not be able to secure the kind of financial arrangement that is so important to the survival of the team in DC.

At 24 September, 2007 16:54, Blogger Mike said...

I think this is a very well-thought-out, if ultimately hypothetical, scenario. And I'm not just saying that because Larry's my dad.

The key thing to consider here is that if and when MLS teams need to expand their stadiums to accommodate the legions of new soccer fans that are being won over by Beckham and Blanco, United would be ahead of the curve. And, as mentioned in the post, it would also allow for easily hosting bigger capacity matches (like the national team), something that a lot of the smaller SSS's can only do in limited numbers.

At 24 September, 2007 19:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Larry, but this is a lousy idea. Spending money trying to improve RFK Stadium is a perfect example of throwing good money after bad.

The sightlines at RFK are designed for baseball, and the stadium is much too big for soccer. Putting a canopy on the mezzanine level isn't going to change that.

MLS wants their teams playing in soccer specific stadiums, not refurbished baseball parks. The only way DC United is going to stay at the RFK location is if RFK stadium is torn down, and a new stadium is built in it's place.


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