RFK Stadium. Photo by kenudigit on Flickr.

According to several news sources, DC United, the District’s professional soccer team, has been talking with DC officials as well as local developers about options for a new stadium in the city.

The team is seeking a smaller venue to replace its current home at oversized RFK stadium. This move could give the city an opportunity to replicate the successes of the Verizon Center while avoiding the mistakes of Nationals Ballpark.

According to United President Kevin Payne, the team has discussed at least four sites with officials. The leading prospect in the fledgling discussions appears to be a site on Buzzard Point in Southwest DC owned by the developer Akridge. The other site which was specifically named is the current site of the Capital City “Florida” Market between Florida and New York Avenues in Northeast.

Images from Google Maps

Both of these sites have positives and negatives to them.

The Buzzard Point site is currently an underused parking lot in an area that has not seen the development it was promised during the planning stages for Nationals Ballpark. Of course, this underdevelopment is likely at least partially due the site’s biggest downside: relative remoteness.

The nearest Metro stations are about 8 blocks to the north, and the site is served by a single rush-hour only bus route, the 71. Across from the site is historical Fort McNair — beautiful, yet completely off limits.

The Florida Market site, on the other hand, is only a few blocks from the New York Avenue Metro station, and along several major bus lines, but currently sees significant use, which would ostensibly be displaced.

The current market is a major hub of wholesale food sales for area restaurateurs and, as Richard Layman and Frozen Tropics have written, has resisted development attempts before.

Ward 2 Council Member and Finance Committee Chairman Jack Evans has expressed his desire to work with the team “to build and finance a new soccer stadium,” though it’s unclear if that means the District would cover any of the costs. If the city were to pony up any funds for a stadium, it should use them as leverage to ensure the best outcomes for whatever neighborhood the venue ends up in.

What does this mean? First, it means guaranteeing that what is built is a truly urban stadium. Cavan examined the characteristics this requires the last time DC United was searching about for a new venue, and we discussed it more recently when Evans let slip that he’d like to bring the Redskins back to the District some day.

Most purpose-built MLS arenas hold 18-25,000 fans. The beauty of a smaller stadium is that meeting these criteria is much easier than with one of the 100,000 seat monstrosities that professional football teams demand these days.

If the District and the team can work together to create a small-scale stadium that fits into the urban fabric of its host neighborhood, reduces or eliminates surface parking and is part of a mixed-use development that can be used more than 30 times a year and promotes a lively streetscape outside of event days, they might produce a project worth the city’s investment. Of course that’s a big if.