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With the federal government in Washington’s back yard, getting local legislation passed may seem like an easier task than, say, it is in North Dakota. But just because the key players may be more familiar doesn’t mean city projects move at a faster clip. Just ask D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, who has been pushing a bill that would transfer land along the Anacostia riverfront from the federal government for the past two years. As his mayoral term quickly winds down, Williams has yet to get Congress to acquiesce over 200 acres of federal land to the District, despite receiving President George W. Bush’s backing last year. And the longer the bill languishes in Congress, the more nervous supporters get that it won’t move by the end of the year. Anacostia Waterfront Corp. President and Chief Executive Adrian Washington says the slowdown has less to do with opposition to the land transfer than with congressional members not facing constituent pressure. (After all, the District has just one representative in Congress, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and she doesn’t get a vote.) But on July 27 the Federal and District of Columbia Real Property Act of 2005, which had been stalled for months, got new legs at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. Members approved the bill on voice vote to send it to the floor after adding an amendment by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that calls for more accountability through annual reporting requirements for the District and the Government Accountability Office. According to Craig Engle of Arent Fox, who is a lobbyist for D.C. United, the bill gained momentum last week after it cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where even its strongest critic, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), said he embraced the proposal’s goals. Coburn and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) are expected to ask the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a rough appraisal of the land. The lobbying effort has been a four-pronged lead attack by the D.C. mayor’s office, the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., and pro-soccer team D.C. United. “[The legislation] is unusual in that it is far-reaching and in many ways efficient, because as you can see from the bill, there are a lot of different properties and different purposes [for the land],” says Whayne Quin, a partner at Holland & Knight who represents private developers with ongoing projects in Anacostia that hinge on the transfer of land. Besides the 110-acre park space at Poplar Point, which is expected to house a 27,000-seat soccer stadium, the land transfer includes a 66-acre parcel of land, which was home to D.C. General Hospital, and 15 acres of parking lots near RFK Stadium. The two biggest hurdles for the lobbying team were convincing Congress members that the District had a plan it would implement quickly for redeveloping the land and that the bill was not a federal giveaway to the District. “The bill was very carefully crafted where D.C. assets that had value were being transferred to the federal government,” says Washington. “In the long term it is very much a fair deal for both the District and the federal government.” If passed, the bill would bring about the largest federal land transfer in the District in recent years, and in exchange the city would give the federal government a dozen pieces of land throughout the District of Columbia and agree to pay for a cleanup of the land it would acquire along the Anacostia River. “This is another phase in the establishment of a real prominent sports program in the nation’s capital,” says Mark Tuohey, a partner at Vinson & Elkins and chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. The team has been courting the public and city officials since it announced to season ticket holders in 2004 that it was looking to move out of RFK Stadium and build its own space. To get its message heard on Capitol Hill, D.C. United hired Engle and Jon Bouker from Arent Fox last October to speed up the process. For the second half of 2005 the team spent $40,000 on its lobbying efforts, according to Senate public records. Lobbying disclosure forms are not available for 2006. “This land-transfer bill and a soccer stadium at Poplar Point have really captured the imagination of federal and city governments,” says Engle. “I think that everyone that I have spoken to is not only in favor of it but have asked how they could help.” The current proposal has the new stadium at Poplar Point in Ward 8. And despite early criticism by former mayor and current Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, D.C. United eventually got Barry on board because of the projected $1 billion in new investment in Ward 8 and a proposed affordable-housing development. Ward 8 has the most undeveloped land in the city and is home to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and two of the largest Hope VI affordable-housing projects in the District. The unemployment rate in the ward is more than 13 percent, according to the East of the River Community Development Corp. Some residents, however, remain skeptical about whether the expected influx of jobs will actually go to Ward 8 residents. “Naturally, anytime you are talking about a change, some people who have questions about it want to know what the options are,” says Vincent Morris, spokesman for Williams. And despite the committee’s recent action, the land transfer is far from a done deal, as both the House and the Senate have to vote on the bill. And plans for D.C. United’s stadium are still in the beginning stages. If the bill continues at its current pace, Williams will have to cede control of the project to the new mayor. The top three mayoral candidates, Adrian Fenty, Linda Cropp, and Marie Johns, say they support the land-transfer bill, but how big of a priority they would make it remains to be seen. “The land transfer I am 100 percent in favor of; we need to get as much land from the federal government as we can,” says Cropp. “But what goes on the land is another issue that we need to get through the community, working with other groups — affordable housing, retail, and possibly the soccer stadium.” Mayoral candidate Michael Brown does not support D.C. United’s pitch for a stadium. And Anacostia Waterfront Corp.’s Washington says that although D.C. United has helped lobby Congress, the stadium plan is not guaranteed to go through. “We haven’t seen the full details on the D.C. United plan,” says Washington. “We haven’t seen the financing structure, financial guarantee, and what subsidies, if any, they would expect.” D.C. United’s buyout by Global Development Partners fell through in January. The deal, which was worth an estimated $26 million, would have given the team secure financing for its stadium project. D.C. United continues to be run by Anschutz Entertainment Group and is in talks with a prospective buyer, according to D.C. United President and CEO Kevin Payne. The team wants the stadium ready for the 2009 soccer season. “We seem to be in the homestretch on the legislation,” Payne says. “I’m not very worried. The city’s on record with essentially a promise [to support the new stadium], and I don’t think they will go back on it.” “We’re fairly optimistic that this bill will pass. We’re hoping that it will pass early in the fall when everyone returns [from recess],” says Danielle Baussan, director of intergovernmental relations for the Anacostia Waterfront Corp.
Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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