Friday, Jan. 25, 2008

State, municipal leaders cool to Prince George’s soccer plan

Potential sites for the new stadium include Greenbelt, College Park, New Carrollton

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Some state and local leaders in Prince George’s County are expressing misgivings about a plan to move the professional soccer team D.C. United from the District’s RFK Stadium to a location in the county.

A new stadium could exacerbate some of the challenges the county faces in spite of its potential economic benefits and entertainment value, said Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Dist. 21) of Beltsville.

‘‘We have Konterra coming. We have the ICC dumping traffic into our district. And we have BRAC that will affect us, so we have to look at the logistics and talk to our constituents,” said Frush, chairwoman of the county’s delegation to Annapolis.

‘‘It seems like it could be a very good thing, but the devil is always in the details and I haven’t seen a proposal yet,” she said.

The Maryland Stadium Authority will oversee a feasibility study that will examine the economic effects of a soccer stadium that could hold as many as 31,000 spectators.

Greenbelt, College Park and New Carrollton are being mentioned as potential sites.

The proposal started to take shape last fall after county officials asked the stadium authority for help attracting the Major League Soccer team.

D.C. United has been in talks about a new stadium in the District, but by several accounts those negotiations have yielded little progress in recent months.

Prince George’s officials said they would like to see a stadium built at either the Greenbelt or New Carrollton Metrorail stations to serve as a centerpiece for development.

‘‘We are the last county in the region to really develop around our Metro stations,” said David Byrd, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer. ‘‘[A stadium] can be a great anchor for mixed-use development at Metro stations. ... When the game is over, there will be lots of things for people to do when they leave the stadium.”

‘‘We think either option would be excellent for the county,” he said.

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) sent a letter to the stadium authority in November saying he had met with team officials and discussed the possibility of moving the franchise to Prince George’s, which also is home to FedEx Field, the Washington Redskins’ stadium.

Byrd said he sent a letter to MLS President Don Garber last month asking for his support in bringing the team to Prince George’s but has not received a response.

A D.C. United spokesman said the team would not comment on a move to Maryland.

In addition to a capacity of 27,000 to 31,000 spectators, preliminary stadium plans call for 33,000 square feet of private suites and 10,500 square feet of party decks, according to stadium authority documents.

D.C. United, which has won four of the MLS’ 12 championships, has played at RFK Stadium since 1996.

In 1997, Prince George’s officials lured the Redskins to 91,000-seat stadium in Landover. The county received more than $10 million in admission and property taxes from FedEx Field in fiscal 2006, well over the $6 million in taxes the stadium was originally projected to bring in.

College Park City Councilwoman Mary Cook (Dist. 4) said she did not think it would be possible for the city to host a sports franchise.

‘‘I would have great concern about the traffic, noise, pollution and crime — the same things we worry about on a daily basis and this would just increase it,” Cook said. ‘‘Is it a good thing? It could be if done correctly.”

College Park City Councilman Jonathan Molinatto (Dist. 1) said he was in favor of the proposal, as it would be a great boon for businesses as well as the surrounding communities.

‘‘It would make the area more popular. I’ve been to RFK a few times for games, and it definitely has a strong following,” he said. ‘‘Given economic feasibility, I would be for it.”

Molinatto said he was concerned about the increased traffic such a stadium would bring, ‘‘especially if there was a D.C. United game and a Terps football or basketball game [at the same time].”

New Carrollton Mayor Pro Tem Dave Anderson said he only recently learned about the possibility of a stadium in Prince George’s, and it is too early to tell what will happen.

Whatever happens, Anderson said, it is unlikely to be within New Carrollton city limits because there is not enough land.

‘‘The potential for bringing new business would be good, but on the other hand it may bring traffic problems,” Anderson said. ‘‘But I don’t know the specific locations that they’re thinking about. I’m not sure if it would be on the New Carrollton side of the Metro station or the Landover side of the Metro station. It’s hard to say at this point what the impact would be for the city.”

Greenbelt Mayor Pro Tem Rodney Roberts, upon hearing Greenbelt was considered as a possible site, said he did not take the news seriously and offered little support for a soccer stadium near the Greenbelt Metro station.

‘‘Personally, I don’t think there’s enough room there for a stadium,” Roberts said. ‘‘I think that’s crazy. If you’re talking about having revenue, there’s a lot better things to put there besides a stadium.”

State Sen. James C. Rosapepe said he does not hear many people demanding a soccer stadium in the county.

‘‘It would depend on who pays for it, traffic congestion,” said Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park, an admitted soccer fan. ‘‘... If a private company wants to build a soccer stadium in a place that won’t create worse traffic, then there could be a chance for it.”

Staff Writers Janel H. Davis, Natalie McGill, Alan Brody and Jeffrey K. Lyles contributed to this report. Davis reported from Annapolis.

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