By ERICH WAGNER
ANNAPOLIS (March 18, 2009) - More than 50 D.C. United supporters marched through downtown Annapolis Tuesday in support of a bill that would authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to develop plans to build a 24,000-seat soccer stadium in Prince George's County for the MLS team.
The bill, as amended by its sponsor, Delegate Melony Griffith, D-Prince George's, would allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to work with county governmental officials to iron out a location, design and comprehensive financing plan for the stadium.
"House Bill 1282 does not make the stadium a done deal," Griffith said. "What we've done is given those who are interested more information and those with more questions about the potential economic interests in Prince George's County an opportunity to see if there is consensus around it."
Griffith's original bill gave the Maryland Stadium Authority the power to issue up to $178 million in state bonds to build the stadium. The amendment removing the provision came after state and local politicians expressed skepticism about the stadium's ability to generate enough tax revenue to pay for the bonds, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
A feasibility study conducted in 2008 by an independent consultant found that such a stadium would create more than 1,000 jobs, generate more than $5 million in annual local and state tax revenue and generate a total of between $65 million and $80 million in revenue per year.
But even with these projections, Delegate Murray Levy, D-Charles, questioned the timing of such a proposal, given the current economic climate and the state's multibillion dollar budget shortfall.
"What kind of message does it send?" Levy asked.
D.C. United President and CEO Kevin Payne said he understands people's worries about trying to build a new stadium during tough economic times and questions about the economic viability of such a venue, but argued that such a development would serve as a "stimulus" to the economy of Prince George's County, creating new tax revenue rather than increasing the tax burden on residents.
"We have 250 people every game that come from New York, so they're going to be coming to Prince George's County now and leaving money behind," Payne said. "They would not otherwise ever have a reason to come to Prince George's County."
Opponents said that the stadium, if funded through state or local bonds, would be an unwanted tax burden on Maryland and Prince George's County residents.
Judy Robinson, an activist in Prince George's County, said she would welcome D.C. United, provided they pay their own way.
"Everybody seems to be under the impression that we don?t want D.C. United to come," Robinson said. "We do, but we want them to pay for their own stadium."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.