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Responding to the 'Rethink'ing

In which someone within a story on the Washington Post is given the chance to respond to some things.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of Monday's Washington Post article by Clinton Yates, one of the people quoted in the story is Paul Sotoudeh. As the article mentioned, Sotoudeh moved from Rockville into D.C., where he currently resides. He is a past President of the Screaming Eagles Supporters' Group for D.C. United, and aside from being one of the founders of Keep D.C. United, is also a ward co-Chair for Unite DC. Along with his stadium efforts outside of games, he assists with operations on gamedays for the Eagles and is one of the "capos," a.k.a., one of the guys who occasionally gets on the stand and helps with cheers during games. With this in mind, the floor is now Paul's:

On Monday, November 10th, Clinton Yates of the Washington Post wrote what I think can fairly be labeled as a takedown of the Buzzard Point stadium proposal. He recounts the history of redevelopment in Southwest, which led to many residents being displaced from their homes, and quotes me expressing my belief that the history is "shameful" and the city needs to engage the residents of Buzzard Point to assuage their fears that history will repeat itself.

I said what Yates says I said and stand by it. Unfortunately, Yates shoehorned my quote into a simplistic argument that doesn’t really turn on talk. It turns on cash. He chastises D.C. United and the District for rejecting a community benefits request and says that the team’s "wealthy owner" has "only offered modest concessions" instead. As a result, he believes that "this is not a good deal for the city".

In addition to a number of program requests, which I’ll get to in a second, the core of the request is cash payments to private organizations - $750,000 for  "small business incubation", $500,000 for "workforce development and training", and a whopping $5 million (plus an additional $100,000 annually) for a "New Community Fund".

It’s surely reasonable to believe that the team and city could better address the understandable fears of the Buzzard Point community without thinking it’s a good idea to hand over $6.25 million to create duplicative private programs with minimal accounting oversight. For whatever reason, Yates sees the team’s "wealthy owner" and the city rejecting those cash payments as a sign that the community is an "afterthought", and he sets it at the center of his argument.

So, to use his (and my) phrasing, let’s have that discussion. I mentioned the program requests earlier. Let’s look at the response to them. Scroll to the bottom of page 10, and you’ll see an extensive list of requested "education and recreation provisions" – commitments to fund soccer clubs and reading programs for neighborhood kids, 50 scholarships for low-income children to attend United’s training and summer camp programs, free access to and use of stadium facilities for non-profits in the community, and even a commitment to buy a monthly full-page ad in the community newspaper. There are eight requests in total.

D.C. United agrees to either all or part of every one of them. There are tweaks on the margins, but in the end the team commits to nearly everything asked of them that isn’t a direct cash payment to a private entity. That’s not how an "afterthought" gets treated.

Yates says "this is not a good deal for the city", but it’s unclear what his benchmarks are. He never provides examples of community work done by other teams, nor does he address publicly financed facilities built elsewhere, such as Marlins Park in Miami (nearly $509 million of taxpayer money), the Georgia Dome in Atlanta ($214 million in 1992, plus $300 million in renovations completed in 2009), Nationals Park here in Washington ($670 million), and TWO separate stadiums in Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium ($455 million) and Great American Ball Park ($290 million). I'd presume even he'd agree that United’s 50/50 deal with the District easily sails past all of them.

Instead, Yates settles for reductive, facile platitudes about "subsidizing a wealthy owner", giving the reader no context for how development or community relations are done in the real world – not just in sports, but in areas like film credits, rainy day funds, or tax breaks to large employers.

D.C. United said "yes" to just about everything that was asked of them, so let’s recognize the payment request for what it is – at best a misguided request for duplicative programming, at worst a shakedown attempt – and dismiss it accordingly. Then let’s start the real discussion that’s needed – one about history, development, and how D.C. United can be a part of building something better for all the residents of Buzzard Point.