State Moves Into Phase Two Of Study On Proposed Soccer Stadium
By Tim Richardson
At the request of Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Maryland Stadium Authority voted May 23 on a Memo of Understanding between the MSA and D.C. United to perform the second phase of a study to build a soccer-specific stadium at Westport.
The venue would be part of Turner Development Group's planned revitalization of the Westport waterfront area, located on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.
D.C. United is one of the 10 charter clubs of Major League Soccer and has played its home games at RFK Stadium in Washington since the league's first season in 1996.
In a letter to the MSA dated May 11, O'Malley and Rawlings-Blake said they would like to explore further the viability of this project, based on the results of the previous market and economic study Crossroads Consulting performed on behalf of the MSA.
In December 2010, the Baltimore Development Corporation released the findings of that study to determine the feasibility of a professional soccer stadium in Baltimore. The report analyzed the potential success for two possible scenarios, including a 25,000-seat stadium for D.C. United at Westport.
"The first study looked at whether there was a market for the team and what the economic impact would be in terms of revenue for both the city and state," said Mike Frenz, executive director of the MSA. "In phase two, we will look at the estimated hard costs involved in actually building the proposed stadium."
The initial study determined that a relocated stadium in Westport would have approximately 49-54 events a year, including 17 D.C. United games. It projected that total attendance would vary from 584,750 to 695,100 per year, with total annual spending between $65.7 million and $78 million.
The report estimated a creation of 780 to 940 jobs per year, with annual state tax revenues of approximately $3 million-$3.5 million. The study also concluded that the stadium project would generate $2.3 million-$2.8 million annually in city taxes.
The Maryland legislature has committed $175,000 to pay for this next phase of the study, but the Memo of Understanding requires D.C. United to repay that amount to the state should the team relocate somewhere other than Baltimore. According to Frenz, that provision does not have a time deadline. Should the club choose to relocate 20 years from now to somewhere other than Baltimore, it would still be required to reimburse the state for that amount.
Doug Hicks, senior vice president of marketing and communications for D.C. United, wrote in an e-mail that the items the MSA was exploring represented the final phase of the economic feasibility study for a possible stadium in Baltimore.
"These steps are consistent with the process they follow with any major project and in line with previous statements provided by both MSA and D.C. United," Hicks said. "D.C. United continues to explore opportunities for a new stadium in Baltimore and in Washington, D.C., in order to assure the long-term financial viability of the team."
RFK Stadium is a 50-year-old facility and D.C. United has been reviewing its options for a potential new deal in an updated venue, either in D.C. or another location. Last season, the team signed a two-year lease to remain at RFK Stadium through 2013.
According to a March article in Sporting News, the deal afforded both the team and District of Columbia officials "additional time to search for a more permanent home for the league's most decorated club." D.C. United has won the MLS Cup a record four times, while appearing in five league championship matches.
According to the Memo of Understanding, D.C. United has agreed to complete 5 percent architectural and engineering plans for the proposed stadium. D.C. United has engaged Dallas-based architectural firm HKS Inc. for the design. The firm's Web site lists Cowboys Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Liverpool Football Club Stadium among projects in its sports portfolio.
Joseph Oakton of Bel Air has played soccer his entire life and said he supports any efforts that could lead to D.C. United playing in Baltimore.
"As an avid soccer fan, I think it would be exciting to have a MLS team playing in Baltimore," Oakton said. "I enjoy the United, but traveling to D.C. is just too inconvenient. But if they were to relocate to Baltimore, I would absolutely go to more of their games."
Later this summer, teams from Barclay's Premier League in England will play at M&T Bank Stadium when Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool square off July 28. The game will mark the third time in four years that Baltimore has hosted soccer fixtures featuring elite European teams.
Posted May 28, 2012