The fate of a possible new soccer-specific stadium for D.C. United at Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington, D.C. could start to become a little clearer at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 26 as the D.C. Council holds its first joint public hearing on the proposal.
Convened by the Committee of the Whole, the Committee on Finance and Revenue and the Committee on Government Operations, lawmakers will debate Bill 20-805 — District of Columbia Soccer Stadium Development Act — and hear testimony from those who are in favor and also those who are against the project.
Having first been unveiled at a press conference on the potential site almost a year ago, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced the completion of a stadium deal on May 23 through a complex land-swap involving real estate development firm Akridge, electric utility company PEPCO and the D.C. Government. The exchange of the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs formed a key part of the package, with the Center’s owners Akridge giving the city the majority of the site at Buzzard Point.
“This is a major step forward for economic development in the District of Columbia,” said Mayor Gray in a press release when the deal’s completion was announced. “The new soccer stadium will be the connector between developing areas around our baseball stadium and the new Wharf development along our Southwest Waterfront. The new soccer stadium is the final catalyst for what is certain to become one of the most vibrant and sustainable sports and retail districts in America.”
The deal has its supporters and its critics, and this hearing is the first opportunity the public will have to testify to the D.C. Council, who ultimately will have the final say on whether the project will be approved.
For their part, D.C. United looked to get more exposure for the possible benefits of the new stadium as a number of artists’ renderings were released earlier this month showing how it might look once built.
The date of the first hearing — June 26 — will not be lost on soccer fans as it is the same day that the United States Men’s National Team plays Germany in their final FIFA World Cup group game. The hearing is due to begin at 9:30 a.m. EDT, with the USMNT game kicking off at 12 noon EDT, with the potential for overlap between the two events.
Councilmember Jack Evans, who also chairs the Committee on Finance and Revenue, wrote to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on June 17 asking for a recess in proceedings to accommodate the game, and also for the Chamber’s projector screens to show the game. However, per Washington City Paper, Mendelson is not “inclined” to agree to Evans’ request, according to his spokeswomen Karen Sibert.
Those on both sides were encouraged to register to testify either in person on the day itself or in writing by the Council, who are looking to use this first hearing as a way of gauging feelings on the project among D.C. residents.
The deal itself has been thrown into some uncertainty by Mayor Gray’s loss in the Democratic primary on April 1 by councilmember Muriel Bowser, who represents Ward 4. With no announcement on whether he will run as an independent or as a write-in candidate in the November 4 mayoral election, Gray is now a lame duck mayor and may lose power to a candidate who has voiced opposition to the land swap deal, both for undervaluing the Reeves Center and stating that she would prefer the money to go towards improving D.C. schools.
This first public hearing should be a crucial measure of both public and political feeling towards any potential stadium development at Buzzard Point, and while it is just another step on a long road, those connected with D.C. United will be keen to see a positive outcome from Thursday’s proceedings.
The hearing is due to commence at 9:30 a.m. in the Council Chamber of the John A. Wilson Building. It will be streamed live and in full here. The legislation is also available online, with the option for visitors to add notes on the text, here.