Stadium is an opportunity to score one for transit-oriented development
Included in the last-minute crush of bills that the Maryland General Assembly will consider next week is a much-reported-on piece of legislation that would provide the state's Stadium Authority with the wherewithal to further study and evaluate the economic costs, feasibility and impact of locating a professional soccer stadium for D.C. United in Prince George's County. It's important to note that the proposed legislation doesn't build a stadium. Instead, it allows for further study of the possibility of using a world-class entertainment and office venue to jump-start sorely-needed transit-oriented development at a Metro site in the county.
The slow pace of investment surrounding Prince George's County's 15 Metro stations has been frustrating and somewhat puzzling to those of us who see the obvious and attractive benefits that these sites offer. Chief among these benefits are comprehensive transit-oriented development policies and zoning; reasonable land prices; competitive tax incentives, and the opportunity to fulfill overwhelming, pent-up consumer demand. The county has adopted transit-oriented development as one of the principal growth strategies in its General Plan, touting the economic, social and environmental pluses, as well as the positive impact of an increased tax base for its residents. Yet, the hoped-for uses and activities in areas surrounding the already-built stations have been slow to materialize.
The promise and the disappointment of transit-oriented development investment in the county have been addressed by outside observers such as regional economist Stephen Fuller, and local, state and regional policymakers at all levels. The proposed solution: create a sufficient density of uses and activities to generate transit ridership by encouraging, stimulating, supporting and combining private uses that will capitalize on public investment. A professional soccer stadium complex, along with ancillary offices, practice fields, public recreation amenities and opportunities for use by local school and community teams, might just provide the catalyst to kick-off private and public investment at one of the county's Metro sites.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Washington Metropolitan [Area] Transit Authority have agreed, in principle, to participate in a study that will take an in-depth look at the projected economic costs and benefits of using the stadium — along with public sector investment — to stimulate long-awaited transit-oriented development in the county. Fortunately, the Maryland General Assembly is still considering legislation sponsored by Del. Melony Griffith that would provide for such a study, at no cost to the county government, and which could provide answers to a number of the most important questions.
In its current form, Del. Griffith's bill simply tasks the Maryland Stadium Authority to conduct an independent study to figure out whether the stadium is actually appropriate for any public investment. As part of the study process and before the Stadium Authority can answer whether contributing public money is good or bad, D.C. United must first commit to a location, commit to take on a portion of financial responsibility for the stadium cost and commit to some basic design features for the facility.
In an independent market study released last September, the Maryland Stadium Authority provides good reason to believe that a professional soccer team could be successful in Prince George's County. It also suggests that a location be chosen to capitalize on county mass transit facilities. In order to create a pathway to this vision, the Griffith bill also opens up an opportunity for my agency, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, to explore the possibility of consolidating its Prince George's County staff at a transit site with a stadium. The proposed legislation allows Prince George's County to begin to consider the steps it must take now to invest in and position itself to stimulate transit-oriented development in the future.
Even so, a pocket of vocal community opposition to any stadium has emerged. However well meaning, many of the citizens who oppose Del. Griffith's bill are navigating an untenable tack by, on the one hand, opposing a financial study of the prospects for a stadium, even while broadcasting on the other hand that the level of private financial contribution is not acceptable.
All of the hoopla over a stadium, however, misses the most important point. We need a new strategy to develop our Metrorail stations in Prince George's County, and we cannot in good conscience reject a D.C. United stadium out of hand as a promising means to such an important end.
Samuel J. Parker Jr. is chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.