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City to hand over Buzzard Point land to D.C. United, but stadium work will run into ’18 season

Friday, September 30, 2016

Washington Post by Steven Goff

This weekend, the District government will hand over the Buzzard Point property that D.C. United needs to build a soccer-specific stadium three blocks from Nationals Park.

The MLS club is slated to play its final match at RFK Stadium next fall and move into the new complex in 2018 — a transition at the heart of the club’s season-ticket marketing campaign.

Based on construction projections, however, United probably will not play its first home game there until June of ’18, three months into the season. Accordingly, the league is prepared to schedule numerous away matches before United is able to christen the new digs.

United officials face a D.C. Zoning Commission hearing Nov. 2 and are aiming to break ground this January or February. Optimistically, they believe they can complete the project in 14 months. Realistically, they’re looking at 16 months to finish a venue that will offer approximately 19,000 seats, 32 suites and standing-room-only tickets during sellouts.

Similar-sized MLS stadiums that avoided major complications were built in 13-19 months.

It’s unclear how any possible delays along the way at Buzzard Point would further impact the 2018 schedule.

United officials have no plans to play any games after next season at city-operated RFK, where team investors have burned through cash since the team’s inception in 1996. In essence, United would accept an uneven schedule in order to play the entire 2018 home slate at Buzzard Point. The new stadium will provide greater revenue streams and a better game-day experience than shabby RFK, which opened 55 years ago Saturday with a Redskins-Giants game.

Had the new stadium opened June 1 this year, United would’ve had to start the season with 13 consecutive road games. (Overall, MLS teams play 17 away matches.)

Even if MLS were to lighten the early-season load, United would still probably face a 10-game away stretch. And 2018 is a World Cup year, which means the league will pause for a few weeks in June, constricting the available dates on the league calendar.

United wouldn’t be the first MLS team to start the year on an extended road swing — it has occurred seven times prior. The longest away block was 10 games by Sporting Kansas City in 2011.

Five teams have played at least seven matches on the road while awaiting the completion of a new stadium. In addition, in each of the last two seasons, Toronto FC has gone on the road while BMO Field underwent expansion and renovations.

Here’s how those teams fared before their first home game:

1999: Columbus Crew 5-2-0 (two victories came in shootouts)

2003: Los Angeles Galaxy 0-4-4

2006: Chicago Fire 2-3-4

2011: Sporting Kansas City 1-6-3

2012: Houston Dynamo 2-3-2

2015: Toronto FC 3-4-0

2016: Toronto FC 3-3-2

In 2010, with Talen Energy Stadium behind schedule, the expansion Philadelphia Union played eight road games plus two home matches at the local NFL venue, Lincoln Financial Field, before moving into the Chester, Pa., facility in late June.

Details and updates on the Buzzard Point project:

  • Ahead of the land transition, the city has been preparing the property by removing and relocating utility and demolishing small structures. Last spring, city and team officials staged a ceremonial event.
  • The team will soon begin mobilizing equipment, excavating and remediating soil, and erecting signage.
  • The city’s contributions to the project are capped at $150 million. The team might have to spend close to $200 million, up from the original $150 million projections.
  • United faces a zoning hearing Nov. 2 (6:30 p.m.) at One Judiciary Square. Among the lingering issues is the impact of the project on commercial development at nearby parcels.
  • Populous, a Kansas City-based firm that has designed stadiums around the world, is United’s primary architect. Marshall Moya Design in Washington is the associate architect.
  • The architectural style is “contemporary-industrial … borne out of its site context and the aspirations of becoming a transformational addition to the neighborhood. The design team wanted the new stadium to establish itself as a beacon for a new design aesthetic, while at the same time grounding itself in the industrial past of Buzzard Point.”
  • The maximum stadium height is 98 feet 6 inches. Because of permanent Pepco utility cables under the site, the venue will rise from street level. The complex will cover about 331,000 gross square feet. Canopies will cover the east and west sideline seating; the north and south end zones are unprotected.
  • The main spectator entrance is at the northeast corner, closest to Nationals Park. The team projects 75 percent of fans will pass through gates at the primary location, 15 percent at the northwest corner and 10 percent at the southwest entrance.
  • The team store will sit on the north side of the complex, team offices and locker rooms in a two-story secondary structure on the south side. The players’ tunnel is on the south end.
  • While most fans are expected to arrive via public transportation, the team has arranged 3,400 parking spaces in nearby off-site facilities, many used by Nationals fans. (The soccer and baseball teams will not play at the same time.) There will not be any fan parking on the actual stadium site.
  • The closest Metro stations are Navy Yard (seven-tenths of a mile) and Waterfront (0.8). As the neighborhood grows, the city is likely to introduce other public transportation options.
  • The project will include about 230 on-site bicycle spaces. In addition, a bike-share station is located about a half-mile away.

[Complete zoning application and stadium details]