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The dirt is turning at Buzzard Point: A trip to D.C. United's future home

The D.C. United stadium advocacy trio return to Buzzard Point to see how things have changed since the District took control of the property.

by Doug Barnes, Tod Lindberg and David Rusk

As David, Tod and I arrive by car in Buzzard Point, I turn down a street that has all of its parking meters sawed off one inch above the ground. All of a sudden I see a police car coming straight at us, well across the center line. The lights on top start flashing. I stop and roll down my window. The policeman pulls right alongside us and does the same. I can see he is a burly man even from inside my car, so I am polite.

I say, "What's wrong officer?"

With a background of flashing lights, he says, "Just for your information, this is a one-way street?"

"One way, really?"

"Yeah. Just back up and you'll be fine." We were only about 10 yards from the intersection, the distance of defenders from a free kick. With that he turns off his lights and goes on his way, not even checking if I turn my car around.

I say to Tod and David. "Did you see a one-way street sign?"

Tod chuckles, "There wasn't any sign. I guess that's why he said, 'for your information!' "

This is actually was a very welcome development. The old flow of Buzzard Point is gone. Streets are being closed off, roads are being rerouted and dirt is moving. .

I park my car at First and S Street at what will in the future be the home team bench right alongside the pitch. We get out of the car imagining our field of dreams. It looks rather shabby. I see that there is a construction crew on the corner. We approach them and are cordially greeted by the foreman of the crew.

I say, "We're D.C. United fans and just want to see what is going on with the new stadium that is being built here."

He replies, "What a great location for the new stadium. I can't wait until it goes up." He looks over toward what will be the soccer pitch.

"So you're a D.C. United fan?"

"I'm a big fan.  I take my boys to the games."

I then ask him about the work they are doing.  His crew is subcontracted to PEPCO and is digging a trench.  The trench is going to go from one older substation to another new one.  A new substation adjacent to the stadium footprint is being built in anticipation of increased electricity demand in the area.

We have driven to Buzzard Point to walk the perimeter of the new stadium.  Big trucks are rolling in and out of the site, hauling dirt, gravel and other construction materials. Dust is being kicked up into the air. Some of this work is stadium related, but other activity is from cement trucks visiting Vulcan Materials.  This company eventually will have to move out, but Tod says, "I wonder if the cement for the stadium will come from this plant. They won't have to drive far."

David and I had made the walk of the site during the city council meetings, and the area was  dead, quiet as a graveyard.  David, Tod and I cannot contain our excitement.  Those tedious days and nights of testifying in stuffy rooms before the city council have resulted in new beginnings, a soccer stadium rising from the remains of a junkyard and empty parking lots.  Now activity is everywhere.

Tod pulls up a map of the stadium on his cell phone and we get start on our stadium walk.  Across the street at First and S Street we see the remnants of Super Salvage.  The scrap steel and iron are cleared out, leaving nothing but a decoration on the fence.  We start the tour by walking straight north on First Street towards Nationals Park.

We are walking on the touch line on the east side of the stadium north towards the Capitol building.  PEPCO is digging a trench on the opposite side of the street from the former Super Salvage location.  This will contain high voltage electricity lines that will be connected to a substation being built north of R Street.

We arrive at R Street, right at the front entrance of the stadium.  We look towards National Park. This is Potomac Avenue, running straight up to the southwest corner of Nationals Park. On the right we see a cone shaped DC salt shelter.  This will make way for a small park, according to the DC study Buzzard Point Vision Framework.

There is no doubt that Potomac Avenue is going to be a lively approach to the stadium from both Metro and parking areas on the east side of South Capitol Street. David, our urban planning and history guru, wonders if Potomac Avenue isn’t soon to be a majestic avenue in the District, perhaps fulfilling the promise mapped out by L’Enfant 200 years ago. The vista from Nats Park to Buzzard Point should indeed be dazzling. The two sports palaces will be close enough to each other to form a joint landmark of the cityscape. This photo also demonstrates that access to the soccer stadium via Metro will be not much a bigger deal than getting to Nats Park

We turn left and continue our journey along R Street towards the National Defense University. On the right side is the location of the new PEPCO substation, now a work in progress.  This will be the north side of the stadium, with a planned supporter's bar and other commercial soccer oriented shops.  To our left we see what remains of Super Salvage.  The scrap metal is now but a memory, and this will be the very north end of the stadium in a short two years.

We then arrive at the intersection that will be the northwest corner of the stadium at R and 2nd Street.  As we turn south, National Defense University (NDU) is on our right with a fence and the west side of the stadium will be on the left side of the street.  This is a very pleasant street, especially considering that the NDU facility isn’t open to the public. The fence is open iron work and unimposing, perhaps to be matched by something similar on the west side of the future stadium. There also is much construction going on across the street, along the stadium's west stand.  The work is mostly laying the infrastructure groundwork for the new Buzzard Point.

We then turn left at Half and T Street to start walking up the east side of the stadium. Signs of infrastructure construction are everywhere. Obviously PEPCO is moving fast in laying the first part of the energy foundation to support the increased demand for electricity that surely will include not just the stadium, but also multiple mixed development projects.

This will be the area where PEPCO will still have a substation right near the stadium. As we walk up Half Street, we see some cranes that are sitting idle. These large cranes are expensive to rent, so they surely will not sit very long along this stretch of Half Street. They no doubt will be used to move PEPCOs transformers to a new location right up the street from the stadium. That’s David and Tod under the umbrella. Tod said, "I don’t think it’s going to rain, but we need some Black and Red in the picture."

We proceed up Half Street towards Vulcan Materials. This company is outside of the footprint of the stadium, but inevitably will give way to mixed use development and pocket parks. Through the piles of rubble at Vulcan Materials again we can see just how close Nationals Park will be to the entrance of United's future home. In the upcoming years, this will become a lively community if the Buzzard Point Vision Framework becomes a reality.

We then turn left on R Street again right at what will be a small grassy plot that may eventually be turned into a hotel and will be a main gate area for the stadium.  We again pass the cone shaped DC Salt storage area (see picture above) and turn down first street to return to our car.

Along the way we pass a golden bow embedded in a security fence that no doubt has been left by the workers at Super Salvage to commemorate the rise of a new stadium in Buzzard Point. Super Salvage looks quite different today compared to about 2 years ago.

Super Salvage July 2014

Super Salvage April 2016

On start the ride back to Northwest DC David, Tod and I discuss what we've just seen.

David says, "One thing that impressed me is how difficult a job it is to fit even a 20,000 fan stadium in such a small footprint, along with the necessity to move all that major power equipment."

Tod says, "I'm surprised with the amount of activity in Buzzard Point.  Trucks are pulling in and out.  Workers are all over the site. But one thing that impressed me is that the west side of the stadium might really look nice with the planting of new trees and good landscaping. It's a very pleasant atmosphere, and I didn't expect that."

I say, "I agree.  Sometimes the most impressive stadiums are those that have to work with constraints of a small space or complicated environment.  It stimulates the architects to break out of their conventional thinking.  I hope that's the case for Buzzard Point and I can't wait to see the results.  It won't be long now."

As we head out of Buzzard Point we notice a sign on a liquor store just north of the stadium site.  It reads, "For Sale: Development Opportunity."  Take that, Field of Schemes.  Dirt is definitely turning in a major way at Buzzard Point.