The end of last week saw two big developments in D.C. United's ongoing quest to build a new home on Buzzard Point. First, the three leading mayoral candidates each spoke their views on the proposed plan to swap the Reeves Center site for land at the stadium site (and cash) at the first mayoral debate of the fall. Separately, a group of residents of the areas near the proposed stadium site proposed a Community Benefits Agreement to ensure they can internalize some of the benefits of the development. We'll have more on the proposed CBA once I get a chance to look at it more closely, but in the meantime you can read about it over at The Post. For now, let's focus on the debate.
Catania comes out for D.C. United stadium plan
The first mayoral debate, held at American University and moderated by NBC4's Tom Sherwood, went basically as expected by those who pay attention to such things. The surprise of the evening for our purposes, however, came about halfway through the 90-minute forum, when At-Large Council Member David Catania was asked about his previous opposition to Nationals Park. Catania answered (emphasis mine):
My objection was never to Major League Baseball or the Washington Nationals - it was the configuration of the deal. I didn't think it was a self-respecting deal. When Major League Baseball was in the process of selling this team, they asked the residents of the city to bear $700 million, while the owners bore no expense. I didn't think that was fair or self-respecting. Look, in our city, we suffer from a lot of internalized repression; we suffer from a lot of where we'll just take anything. I think grown-up jurisdictions demand something approaching a fair deal. That's why I support, for instance, the soccer stadium - it looks more of a 50-50 proposition. In the end will we be fine? In the end are the Nationals a great asset to the city? Yes. It did leave, though, a bitter taste in my mouth, though, that at the end of the day, our leaders decided that it was okay for us to pay for everything, and Major League Baseball pay for nothing.
I'll admit to doing a double-take when I first saw this. Catania famously has never set foot in Nats Park - though he also said during the debate that he would visit the ballpark as mayor. Many United fans had assumed that Catania would be a reflexive no vote, a sort of counter to the unbridled stadium boosterism of Ward 2 CM Jack Evans. Those assumptions now appear to be wrong.
Bowser calls proposal a "giveaway"
The front-runner and Democratic nominee, Ward 4 CM Muriel Bowser was more circumspect when asked about the stadium proposal (emphasis again mine):
We said from the beginning that we want - I want - D.C. United to stay in the District of Columbia. They have been good for the city, and we support D.C. United. I believe that the Mayor has sent down a deal to the Council that is a very difficult one. They, basically - they call it a trade, but it's basically a giveaway of the Reeves Center. And nobody will support that. What I have done, Tom [Sherwood, the moderator], is I have worked with Councilmember Mendelson to include in our most recent budget the ability for the Council to get an independent study of the deal. The Mayor and the developers were working on the deal for many, many months, and now we need to have an independent appraisal - not appraisal, investigation. It should be out by the end of September.
Bowser actually has two somewhat contradictory things going on in her answer. First, she derides the deal as a giveaway, but then she continues, bragging that she pushed the D.C. Council to hire an independent consultant to look at the agreement so that the District's legislative branch can reach an informed conclusion. It does strike me as odd that she's already concluded that the Reeves Center swap is a giveaway before the independent analysis she insisted the city pay $200,000 for is even finished, but I digress.
Schwartz drops numbers in her opposition
Carol Schwartz, the one-time Republican at-large Council Member who emerged from apparent seclusion to run for mayor for the fifth time, was more direct in her opposition to the stadium:
I'm not on the Council to vote, but I can tell you, if Akridge, who has a sliver of land on deserted Buzzard Point - $21 million - and then to sell him the Reeves Center for $55.5 million, when our former CFO years ago estimated the Reeves Center at $185 million, in our booming corridor. To me, I would have to vote no. I like soccer. I'd like 'em to stay. But I would not buy into that deal that gave away our land and paid top-dollar for land - a sliver of land - in deserted Buzzard Point.
It doesn't come through in the text, but the disdain was dripping in Schwartz's voice when she delivered this. As she conveniently points out in the response, she's not in a position to vote on the deal when the Council decides on the issue. As importantly, she is generally considered to have a snowball's chance in the mayoral race, so her mixing and matching of numbers doesn't amount to much.
Depending on whose polling you believe, the election is either down to Bowser and Catania, or just to Bowser (warning: autoplay video). Stadium proponents will hope to see the Council pass a bill before the new year, and preferably even before the election, so that site preparation can get started - and, of course, so that the stadium's fate won't hinge on the election's results. The winner of this race, though, will be the mayor throughout construction of the stadium and will no doubt have something to say about the implementation of the deal and the team's relationship with the city.
So, what say you, readers? Surprised by Catania's unqualified (and unprovoked) statement of support for the soccer stadium? Think Bowser could be swayed if the independent analysis comes back positive? Let us know in the comments.