ANNAPOLIS – Comptroller Peter Franchot reiterated his desire to lure D.C. United to Maryland Wednesday, saying the soccer franchise would be both an economic and civic catalyst in the state.
But the head of the Maryland Stadium Authority said there have only been preliminary discussions about finding a stadium site for the team, and a spokeswoman for D.C. United’s principal owner said the team would rather stay in the nation’s capital.
Franchot said Wednesday that the chance to bring D.C. United to the state was “a historic opportunity,” a day after meeting with team representatives.
Great teams can lift up “entire states and communities,” Franchot said at the Board of Public Works meeting. He said he believes the team would mean increased tax revenue for the state from hotels, restaurants and merchandise sales.
But others cautioned that talk of the team leaving the District was merely speculative.
Stadium Authority Chairman Fred Puddester said the state’s Department of Business and Economic Development held “preliminary meetings” a month ago with the Major League Soccer franchise.
Franchot wrote Puddester, urging the stadium authority to reach out to D.C. United, but Puddester said no other state official had written him about the team.
And a spokeswoman said Victor MacFarlane, the team’s principal owner, is primarily an urban developer and would rather keep the team in the city. “It is D.C. United,” said Julie Chase.
The team, which has won four titles in America’s top soccer league, currently plays at RFK Stadium in the District.
MacFarlane, a San Francisco-based developer, bought the team in January with a partner and had been negotiating with the city to build a 27,000 seat stadium and mixed-use development in Anacostia.
He had originally offered to build the stadium at Poplar Point, a park along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, if the city let him develop other parts of the park and helped pay for infrastructure. But D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty will soon consider other development bids for Poplar Point.
Despite MacFarlane’s desire to stay in the city, Chase said in a written statement that the team will look “at sites and financing arrangements within, and outside, the District.” She said the team will “welcome conversations” with the Maryland Stadium Authority about building a stadium.
D.C. Council member Marion Barry, whose ward contains Poplar Point, said he does not blame Maryland for trying to land D.C. United, and hopes Franchot’s appeal will put “more pressure on the mayor to make the right decision” and work to keep the team.
Barry said the stadium and related development are essential for his ward, which does not have a sit-down restaurant and needs affordable housing and major retail.
Puddester said his group would look into bringing the team to Maryland. While he said it was “premature to talk about financing,” he also said Franchot’s letter contained nothing about funding a potential stadium.
Franchot said Wednesday that landing D.C. United would probably “require a partnership” between the team and the state, possibly similar to the deal MacFarlane was seeking at Poplar Point.
The comptroller, a professed soccer fan, said in the long run Maryland would benefit with D.C. United not only with increased revenues but in another, less tangible way: Maryland would then have “the greatest soccer team in the country,” he said.