D.C. United Co-Owner Feels Like Tim Robbins in ‘Shawshank’ Escape Scene

by Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — For more than a decade, D.C. United had been attempting to secure land and funding for a new soccer stadium in the nation’s capital.

Many times the club has come close, ultimately to have a promising proposal fall through for a litany of reasons, resigned once more to their home since 1996 — the decaying RFK Stadium, erected in 1961 — until the next opportunity would come along.

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, when the D.C. Council gave United final approval to use public funds to assist in building a 20,000 to 25,000-seat stadium at Buzzard Point, marks the crowning achievement to years’ worth of exhaustive efforts – a monumental victory for soccer fans in D.C.

To give you an idea of what this stadium deal mans to D.C. United fans, here are the words of Ben Bromley, managing editor for SB Nation’s Black & Red United blog, once the deal was officially approved:

“Ten years of starts and stops, ten years of promises made and broken, and ten years of “zzzzzzz” all ended today. The DC Council just now gave final approval to B20-805, the District of Columbia Soccer Stadium Development Act of 2014, which authorizes the Mayor to assemble the land for the soccer stadium and gives the terms by which the District will lease it to D.C. United. There are no longer any promises to break, only law on the books. Having been here all along, United will finally have a place to call their own.”

Jason Levien, D.C. United managing general partner, described to 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier Wednesday the ownership group’s feeling after learning the deal had earned final approval. “I feel a little bit like Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins, when he muddles through that sewer pipe,” he said, “And he busts out, and we feel so good when he gets out of there. That’s how we feel today.”

With regard to enduring the arduous process, Levien said getting a new stadium built has been his ownership group’s core mission since partnering with William Chang 29 months ago.

“I think we had fresh legs for the battle ahead,” he said. “I think we turned it up a notch. We had a press conference announcing our ownership group. We walked right down and met with Mayor [Vincent] Gray that same day, and wanted to get the ball rolling.”

“We’ve got a committed City Council and mayor that understand the role that soccer’s playing in this city, and in the country, it’s growing influence,” he said. “And I think they wanted to get something done. And it’s just a terrific day, I think, for the District residents and sports fans all around the area.”

Despite other attractive potential landing spots for D.C. United’s new home, with strong interest coming from Maryland and Virginia, specifically, Levien said the club’s commitment remained tied to the District, even if it meant a longer, drawn out process.

“This has been our home, and we wanted to focus our efforts here,” he said. “And we knew it was going to be a longer, more difficult painful process, at times, to do that, but that’s what we were focused on doing.”

As for plans for growth around the Buzzard Point area, residents can expect the soccer stadium — which will be situated at the opposing end of South Capitol Street, as it relates to Nationals Park — to serve as a connector to that corridor, in terms of development.

“Now it’s going to cross over in a more effective way, I think, to the other side of South Capitol Street where we’re going to be,” Levien said. “I see it as an entertainment district, an area where people are going to come as a destination, with restaurants, with shops, with sporting events. We’re certainly going to have concerts at the venue.”

The outdoor stadium, with a projected capacity of up to 25,000 seats, also means another large venue in the city to host other entertainment events. To this end, Levien said D.C. United’s new stadium should host events beyond the sport of soccer for about half of “50 to 60 nights a year.”

“We’re going to certainly do concerts – summer concerts, fall concerts,” he explained. “It’s a really sweet spot in terms of the number of people for outdoor concerts. We’re also going to look at doing some college football, potentially, there. We’ve made some inquiries about that. That’s been successful in other soccer-specific stadiums. So we’re going to look at that, as well. We’re game for lacrosse, rugby. We think there are going to be opportunities to really program the building, and we’ve done work in that area, investigating that, and we’ve seen the demand.”

(Listen to the interview in full below.)

Follow Chris Lingebach and 106.7 The Fan.

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