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United sets its sights on Maryland
by Ridge Mahoney, February 17th, 2009 7AM
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D.C. United rolled out a few political backers and ambitious plans for a stadium in Prince George's County, Md., at a press conference on Monday.

Majority owner Victor MacFarlane and club president Kevin Payne unveiled plans for a 24,000-seat facility to be built somewhere in the county that borders the District of Columbia on the north and east and is home to approximately 850,000 residents as well as FedEx Field, home of the NFL Washington Redskins.

"I'm knocking on wood a lot," said Payne of this latest turn in a long path to get the four-time MLS Cup champion a home of its own. "In this business, you try not to get too up or too down, so I'm trying not to get too up. When we put a shovel in the ground and break ground, I'll probably drink some champagne that day.

"But right now we just see this as a great step forward. We're incredibly enthusiastic about the reception we've had from Prince George's County and the state, and we're eager to get to work."

Whether D.C. United will follow the 'Skins out of RFK Stadium, which they shared during the inaugural MLS season in 1996, won't be known until late this year at the earliest. A few local politicians were on hand for the official release of the plan, which will be submitted to the Maryland State Assembly later this year. It mandates that the team pay 25 percent of the projected $195 million cost and the remaining 75 percent come from tax revenues generated by the facility.

"This is a new day for D.C. United," said MacFarlane. "We now see a new, permanent home for our club and our fans, and we think it will bring the kind of opportunity to Prince George's County, and for Maryland, that is so important right now and in the future."

D.C. fans have heard such optimistic rhetoric before, when team and city officials began mapping out a project to be built on federal land adjacent to the Anacostia River. MacFarlane envisioned the multi-use development, with a stadium as a centerpiece, as a way to revive a swath of fenced-off wasteland, but the Poplar Point project stalled repeatedly and on Jan. 30 Mayor Adrian Fenty and developer Clark Realty Capital LLC, which had been hired by the city a year earlier, severed their agreement at the city's behest.

Instead, the city will take on the costs and tasks of preparing the 110-acre site for development and completing transfer of ownership from the National Park District to the District of Columbia, after which the District can select another developer. There is no timeline for his process, and that open-ended arrangement prompted D.C. United to follow up with Prince George's County officials who'd expressed interest in a project.

"We have to grow our economy, no matter what the circumstances," said County Executive Jack Johnson, who oversees the Executive Branch of the county's government operations. "We are not using any tax revenues. We are not using any education revenues. None of the funds that are slated for education and other vital programs will be shifted. This project will stand on its own, and when you examine it on its own, you will find tremendous economic opportunities for the future of Prince George's County."

Seven possible sites are under consideration. County and team officials believe construction could begin late this year, with possible completion in time for late in the 2011 season.

A more realistic opening date would be at the start of the 2012 season but regardless, MacFarlane emphasized the team has left prospects in D.C. behind.

"Please know that our team is committed to working with Prince George's County to build a stadium," said MacFarlane. "We have no communication, we have no other process going on. We want to be in Prince George's County."

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