When word dropped last week that D.C. United had visited locations in Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth was pitching the team on ditching Buzzard Point and the District of Columbia in favor of Loudoun County, I did not react well. I felt angry and betrayed by the club, which had asked its fans in the District to testify in front of the D.C. Council in favor of the public-private partnership to build the stadium in Southwest - the partnership that the team would blow up if it moved to Virginia. I also said I was looking forward to recanting that column if my concerns proved unfounded.
As you've probably read by now, that may just be the case. Yesterday, Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted/teased an announcement for later today.
In the ensuing cloud of confusion, the Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell - johnny on the spot for just about every stadium development we've seen over the last couple years - came through with some details. The city and the club have, several months after agreeing on the basic outlines of a stadium deal, finalized the outstanding details of the plan, and this thing on Buzzard Point really, truly, no take-backs, actually is happening.
The disagreement in negotiations involved a few things: how the club and city would split cost overruns (particularly regarding the site cleanup), apparent slippage in the development timeline, and whether the city would have any recourse if United jumped ship after the city had performed its end of the deal. The final agreement reportedly addresses all three areas. The two sides will split up to $20 million in cost overruns - though it is unclear at this point whether those overruns will start at the city's $150-million commitment or at the estimated cost of the site remediation. The District has until September 30 of this year to take possession of all parcels on the stadium site, and United will accellerate its architectural study, delivering it by September 30 instead of the previously required November 30. And the team will be barred from moving to a stadium outside of the District unless the city fails to meet that September 30 deadline.
It sounds like both sides are getting some of what they want, and everybody's happy. O'Connell even reported that, despite public statements from Bowser and Council Chair Phil Mendelson rolling their eyes at the report, the city "hastened" negotiations after last week's report that a stadium in NoVa was on the table. It sounds like United's ownership applied pressure wisely to drive negotiations to a favorable conclusion.
But, like I said last week, I still don't love this tactic. If you're committed to a place and to a plan, as United had said so many times they were to being in the District, be committed, even if that means negotiations are marginally tougher. Otherwise folks who have stood up for you really do feel put out, and you risk alienating some of your biggest evangelists.
Last week, I wrote that I hoped the Loudoun County talks were actually just about a stadium for the reserve/USL team everybody expects United to launch in the next couple years. With the Buzzard Point deal finally (finally!) inked, it looks like that's exactly what the team's NoVa ambitions could be. Charles Boehm of Soccerwire reported last week that D.C United is likely to move its offices, training grounds, academy and any future USL team to Loudoun, whatever else happens inside the District. That I can get behind.
Ultimately, whether it was an unintended leak or United's ownership applying pressure on the District or something else entirely, last week's news looks to be much ado about only slightly more than nothing. The important thing for United fans is that the Buzzard Point stadium remains on track, and the team will continue to call the District home.