20 October 2007

Maryland United

Do you remember that concept model of downtown Columbia? The one from the late 1960’s that showed what downtown Columbia could look like? Do you remember the sports stadium tucked away in the upper left corner? Well, we now have a possibility to realize that dream.

According to an October 17, 2007 article in the Washington Post (Md. Comes Courting in D.C. United's Stadium Search), Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, the Maryland Stadium Authority, and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development have all had talks with DC United management about bringing the team to Maryland. These talks all took place within the last year.

What would be a better home for the United than Columbia, Maryland? According to Sports Illustrated magazine, Howard County is Maryland's Sportstown. The Covenant Park soccer complex and the annual Memorial Day soccer tournament certainly add to the groundswell of support the MLS team could expect to receive if it were to come to a 2104X zip code.

Moreover, MLS is no stranger to a suburban setting. Carson, CA (population 93,000) is the home of both the LA Galaxy and the Desportes Chivas US teams. The MLS Colorado rapids play their matches at Dick’s Sporting Goods park, located in Commerce City, CO (population 39,000). And if you want to stretch it, MLS team Real Salt Lake plays in Salt Lake City (population 181,000), which has a geographic footprint (109 sq miles) that is larger than eastern Howard County (82 sq. miles, population 200,000).

So why not Maryland United? We have a demonstrated love for the game, an award winning sports heritage, and the demographics that are consistent with many of the homes of current MLS teams. I believe it is certainly worth having the United and the Maryland Stadium Authority take a look and at least do a study.


Hayduke said...

As much as I don't like giving public money to sports franchises, having DC United come to HoCo has been a secret dream of mine for a while. The stadium wouldn't need to be enourmous, like a football or baseball stadium, and we certainly like our soccer here. The only question is where? I don't think downtown Columbia makes sense, but maybe some place along Route 1 near the MARC lines.

John G. Boyle said...

Sorry, I'm like Hayduke - but without the secret dream.

I'm not a fan of supporting non-participatory athletics with any sort of public funds or assistance. We should keep our political focus (and funding) on the issues that really impact our community. Stadium talks/deals don't fall into that category in my book.

Dinosaur Mom said...

I kind of like the idea. I like any idea that hastens the coming of a Green Line extension to our fair city.

Anonymous said...

With D.C. United's current average attendance being about 21,000, the D.C. United ownership is pursuing construction of a 27,000-seat soccer-specific stadium by 2010, most likely much closer to D.C.'s population base.

A 27,000 seat stadium was built for the LA Galaxy in 2002-2003 with a construction cost of $150 million, halfway between Carson and Compton which is hardly a suburban setting, just a couple miles off interstate highways leading the 15 miles to L.A.'s and 10 miles to Long Beach's centers. Compare that to a 38-mile hike from Northrop Field on Centennial Lane to D.C.'s center. L.A.'s stadium was also placed in an area with already-existing and robust bus public transit.

Salt Lake City saw repeated defeats of publicly funding its $76 million 20,000-seat stadium, before finally getting approved, keeping in mind Salt Lake City has only pro basketball (in a privately funded stadium) and no competing major league baseball or football within 500 miles. So, should we, a community similar in size to Salt Lake City as you mentioned, publicly fund a stadium twice as costly? Some may say such funding through the Stadium lottery is painless, but the Stadium Lottery competes with and dimishes the original general lottery which funds schools and other more beneficial programs.

Enjoying and supporting existing local schools and their sports seems a much wiser choice on many levels. For anyone that's counting, $150 million equates to building three high schools or ten elementary schools, structures that would be used 180 days a year for education, as opposed to (insert to-be-determined possibly corporate brand name here) Stadium being used for about 15 soccer games per year spread over an April-to-November season. In a time of looming budget cuts for multiple programs, this nine-figure investment seems very tenuous. (And no city has ever spent the millions to extend a subway line to a facility only used 15 days a year.)

The venue would sit empty the other 350 days of the year, unless used for other events. I expect, as L.A.'s arena does, a 27,000-seat arena would compete for summer concerts with existing venues, especially those that hold far less than 27,000 people. Aren't we interested in seeing Merriweather be more viable, not less?

So, it seems a poor fit for such a stadium to be placed near Columbia, let alone Howard County, even if placed near existing rail lines in the Route 1 corridor. Every other pro sports team based in Baltimore or D.C., when faced with moving its playing field/court, declined a far-out-of-the-city siting and instead either chose to remain close to its fan population or leave the city altogether for another major city providing a location similarly convenient to a dense, close-in fan population.

The name, Maryland United, sounds neat, but, for Maryland, there's many other things behind which we can and should unite than a costly stadium.