Buzzard Point today.  Photo by Stephen Whiting.

DC United has been trying to build a new stadium using its own funds for years. A proposed land swap for a parcel at Buzzard Point could help them get one while the District grows its tax base, increases its housing supply, and improves city services at little cost to taxpayers.

City officials are currently talking with DC United and developer Akridge about swapping some empty parcels of land at Buzzard Point for government-

owned properties around the city, like the Reeves Center near 14th & U streets. In return, Akridge would build a new public safety campus elsewhere in the city and DC United would get the land at Buzzard Point for a stadium.

While other uses have been considered for Buzzard Point in the past, putting a new DC United stadium there would be the best use of that land, while opening up other properties around the city that are better suited for housing or commercial activities.

The current Metropolitan Police Department headquarters at Judiciary Square is outdated and needs to be replaced. It’s in such poor shape that MPD employees would have to move somewhere else if the building were renovated.

Meanwhile, the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the Department of Corrections are temporarily moving from their obsolete facilities on Vermont Avenue to the Reeves Center. All three government agencies are in need of new permanent headquarters, but the catch is that there are currently no funds allocated to building them.

Slate business and economics correspondent Matt Yglesias recently argued that this site should be used for affordable housing instead. While he’s right that DC needs more housing, the Buzzard Point site doesn’t make sense for housing under current market conditions. Akridge bought the land that currently sits idle as a parking lot in 2005. They hoped to build an office building but the GSA refused to lease space there, saying the 15-minute walk from the Navy Yard Metro was too far. 

There was a residential construction boom when Akridge bought the land in 2005, and there’s one happening now due to limited supply and high rents. If they thought that they could sell or rent new homes there, they would have already done so. The Buzzard Point site is a vacant parking lot because there simply isn’t enough economic incentive to build there.

If DC United moved to Buzzard Point, the land would become more valuable, much like the Capitol Riverfront after Nationals Park opened. The District could gain tax revenue from surrounding vacant properties as they were developed. Now in private hands, the highly valuable properties at Judiciary Square and 14th and U could also raise tax revenue for the city.

This gives DC more funds that could be used for affordable housing programs. Meanwhile, the market rate housing supply would increase due to new residential buildings at 14th and U and Buzzard Point. (The Judiciary Square site would presumably be used for commercial uses.)

The increase in housing supply would help stabilize rents. Individual buildings may not do much to stabilize rising rents, since they are only a small part of the new supply needed to meet demand. However, every little bit counts.

While the District of Columbia needs more market rate and affordable housing, it can accomplish those goals without throwing around money to induce development where there’s no demand for it. Perhaps that was the only option available to our forebears in the second half of the 20th century, but the present situation is different with a growing, desirable city and private investors like Akridge and DC United falling all over themselves to invest in the District of Columbia. 

It appears that the District government understands the present circumstances and is negotiating to indirectly use this private investment to improve city services, increase its tax base, and increase its housing supply without having to issue debt that would affect its bond rating. That’s exactly how a growing city should operate.

Disclosure: I’m a member of the Barra Brava, an iconic independent DC United supporters’ group.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master’s in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place’s form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them.  He lives in downtown Silver Spring.