WASHINGTON (AP) – DC United and city officials signed an agreement Thursday that would keep the Major League Soccer franchise in the District of Columbia with a new, $300 million football-only stadium.
The city and the team would split the cost of the stadium, which is tentatively scheduled to open in 2016 in an industrial section of southwest Washington known as Buzzard Point.
DC United, which has played in aging RFK Stadium since MLS' launch in 1996, had considered relocating to suburban Maryland, Virginia or even Baltimore. But co-owner Jason Levien said Thursday that he's been negotiating to keep the team in the district since he bought the club last year.
The design for the new stadium has not been finalized, but officials said Thursday it would seat 20,000 to 25,000 people. The city will pay $150 million to acquire the land for the stadium and improve infrastructure, raising money for the deal through a complicated series of land swaps, while the club will spend $150 million to build the structure.
''This is a landmark day for DC United,'' Levien said.
Mayor Vincent Gray said RFK ''was never suited well for soccer'' and has ''become a real anachronism.''
DC United won three of the first four MLS Cups but has fallen on hard times in recent years. The team sits at the bottom of MLS' Eastern Conference at 2-14-4 record, having scored just nine goals in its 20 games.
Levien and United coach Ben Olsen said they believed the new stadium would improve the product on the field. Of the 19 MLS clubs, 15 play in soccer-specific stadiums, and San Jose is scheduled to open a new stadium next year. Levien said those with new facilities have seen increases in attendance and improved play.
''DC United from the get-go was at the forefront of MLS,'' Levien said. ''That's where we need to return it.''
Said Olsen: ''It's going to drive our culture and our fans and our team to new heights. There's going to be a pep in everyone's step in the locker room.''
The deal requires the approval of the D.C. Council, which engaged in a protracted fight over using public funds to build Nationals Park, which is less than a mile away. The baseball stadium ended up costing the city nearly $700 million.
Five of the 13 council members attended Thursday's announcement and said they supported the deal.
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