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Volume 24 No. 117


DC United on Thursday "received final approval" to build Audi Field, ending "more than a dozen years of frustration to replace RFK Stadium as its home and creating an economic pathway to help the team catch up" to the rest of MLS, according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. The five-member DC Zoning Commission was "unanimous in approving the 14-acre project." The city had previously agreed to cover $150M in "land acquisition and infrastructure costs." DC United will spend up to $200M on the 20,000-capacity venue, which club officials "aim to open" in June '18. Goff notes DC United have "played at run-down RFK" since '96. Since '99, 14 teams have "christened new stadiums and two others are slated to move into new digs next year." A ceremonial groundbreaking is slated for Feb. 27, with DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and MLS Commissioner Don Garber "scheduled to attend." DC United is on a "tight construction timetable to play the inaugural match." But DC United Managing General Partner Jason Levien has said that the project "could be completed in 14-16 months." The Dynamo's BBVA Compass Stadium "was finished in 15 months." Designed with soccer in mind, Audi Field "promises to enhance the fan experience and United’s home-field advantage." The seating sections are "closer to the field and offer improved sightlines" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/17). In DC, Karen Goff reported after design tweaks by architects Populous and Marshall Moya Design were "done in October, the project was given preliminary approval in December." However, Zoning Commission Chair Anthony Hood at a Dec. 16 hearing said he wanted to see "major work done" on the transportation issues (, 2/16).

The Raiders are "close to securing bank financing from lenders including U.S. Bank, potentially reinvigorating the team’s effort to secure a stadium in Las Vegas," according to sources cited by Daniel Kaplan in next week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The move "comes with NFL committee meetings scheduled for March 6-8 in Palm Beach, Fla., when key owners will review the Raiders’ Vegas plans, once thought almost surely sunk after key financial backers" in Las Vegas Sands Chair & CEO Sheldon Adelson and Goldman Sachs pulled out. Bank of America, which has "lent to the Raiders in the past, is also expected to be part of the debt syndicate." BofA is the NFL’s lead bank. U.S. Bank has "lent to several large stadium projects," including those for the Vikings, 49ers and Falcons. But Kaplan notes bank financing does not "necessarily cement a Vegas relocation." The Raiders must "still secure a lease" with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, a process that "already bitterly soured the relationship" with Adelson, who had once pledged $650M and shepherded the state of Nevada's approval of $750M in tax money for a $1.9B stadium. Given Adelson’s "power in Las Vegas, finance and league experts have privately speculated that no one would want to lend to the Raiders, but that does not appear to be the case." The NFL is "not even insisting that the Raiders have their key financing and lease terms nailed down by the early March meeting when the finance and stadium committees meet." The committees "might tell the Raiders to achieve certain goals to ensure a recommendation, but that apparently can wait until the March 26-29 full ownership meeting, when a relocation vote could occur" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 2/20 issue).

Hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen remains "confident that his goal of being the facilitator for getting the NBA and NHL to Seattle will ultimately be realized," even if that means "dipping even deeper into his pocket to offer up a privately financed facility," according to Tim Booth of the AP. Hansen: "We’re not a for-profit enterprise that is attempting to generate a certain level of return on capital as we look at this project to justify it. We’re like, 'What can we do just to make this work for the city and hopefully if we do that part, in the really long term it will work out for us.'" Hansen on Thursday gave his "first extended interview since the Seattle City Council denied a needed street closure last May that was part of a proposal that included a public contribution to the arena project." Hansen said that his group will "have an equity stake in the arena and a possible NBA franchise." He also reiterated the group has "held discussions with parties interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle, but any group interested in hockey must be willing to pay the cost of the franchise and also have contribute a financial stake in the arena." Hansen: "We haven’t attempted to bid on an NHL team. Bidding on an NHL team is their own responsibility." Booth noted the city issued an RFP for "modernizing the arena in January and they’re due April 12." Two groups -- Oak View Group and AEG -- have "stated they intend to submit proposals for the arena that could include the potential for housing a professional sports franchise." Hansen said that his group "fully supports the idea of KeyArena as a music and entertainment venue, but viewing the project as a sports facility could ultimately delay potential opportunities for the NBA or NHL" (AP, 2/16).

While the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches "remains a work in progress," the clubhouses and practice fields for both the Nationals and Astros are in "working order and the initial reviews are positive," according to Jon Santucci of Both clubs reported for Spring Training earlier this week, and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said, "This is a player-centric facility, a fan-centric facility. It’s really going to allow us to do our work and the players to do their stuff and fans to experience spring training the way it’s supposed to be" (, 2/14). In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis noted both teams' clubhouses are "laid out in a similar football-shaped configuration as the Marlins have in Miami." It is a "departure from the days when spring training parks had a minor league feel." Each club has "six practice fields." The Nationals have "two with the same dimensions of Nationals Park in Washington, while the Astros have one that mirrors the layout of Minute Maid Park in Houston." The Nationals also have a 60-foot outdoor pool "under construction outside their clubhouse" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 2/16). In West Palm Beach, Dave George wrote the main ballpark itself is "still being bolted together, with orange plastic fences to keep the public out." The ballpark's opener is slated for Feb. 28. It was the "same kind of frenzy to get Roger Dean Stadium completed" in Jupiter in '98. That project, built originally for the Cardinals and Expos, was "just 12 months from groundbreaking to completion, and it was a similarly close call" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/16).

LET'S TALK DETAILS: In West Palm Beach, Joe Capozzi notes the facility's main entrance on the third base side "features a set of steps to reach the main concourse where fans then walk down into the seating bowl of 6,500 seats." The concourse is also "accessible from two pedestrian bridges, one leading north toward to the Astros’ practice fields and the other south to the Nationals’ fields." The main concourse is "open air, meaning visitors can walk around the entire concourse without missing a single pitch -- a common feature in Cactus League facilities in Arizona but not so common in the Grapefruit League." Meanwhile, the footprint of the main field has the "right field line, including home plate to first base, running slightly north of due east." With "help from a shade structure extending 14 feet over the seating bowl," at least 40% of the seats will "gain shade at first pitch, with shadows falling over more seats throughout the game" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/17).

HOUSTON, WE HAVE NO MORE PROBLEMS: In DC, Thomas Boswell wrote the Nats' complex is "so vast ... you sometimes shake your head at the contrast with the past." The club's weight room is "bigger than -- and probably cost several times as much as -- the entire Nats locker room at dilapidated RFK Stadium." The facility is "so sprawling you might forget" that the Astros also "share its 160-acre campus." Now the Nationals have as much as and "probably more than -- any baseball team could possibly need in a spring training site after enduring a dozen years in which they coped with perhaps the worst spring site in MLB" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/16). The AP's Chuck King wrote, "It's easy to see why the Astros are so excited to have ended their 30-plus year stay in Kissimmee." Astros C Brian McCann: "It's first class in all sense of the word." King noted the clubhouse itself is "at least the size of the Astros' locker room at Minute Maid Park, if not bigger" (AP, 2/15).

The USTA has tapped contractor Seating Solutions to build an 8,000-seat temporary number two stadium for this year’s U.S. Open. Louis Armstrong Stadium was torn down after last year’s event, and its replacement is scheduled to open in time for the ‘18 event. USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Managing Dir Danny Zausner said the temporary stadium will be built off site in pieces and transported. It will be equipped with lights for night time play, a broadcast booth and concessions. The stadium will be in a parking lot, between the construction site for the new venue and the exit ramp from the subway (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).

MAKING ROOM FOR THE NEW GUYS: In Detroit, Joe Guillen notes construction changes to make room for the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena "already are under way, even though the city, NBA leadership and others have yet to sign off on final agreements needed to make the team's move from the Palace of Auburn Hills to downtown official." Various changes to the arena -- from "new NBA locker rooms to the addition of doorways higher than 7 feet tall to fit professional basketball players -- are expected to cost" more than $40M. Ultimately, the cost will be defrayed with $34.5M in "public money from refinancing and extending bonds the Detroit Downtown Development Authority issued" in '14 to "help pay for the new Red Wings arena" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/17). 

DOLLAR GENERAL: In K.C., Lynn Horsley notes local construction company Foutch Brothers has the "go-ahead to secure final financing for its ambitious repurposing of Kemper Arena as a destination amateur sports complex." The K.C. Council by a 9-1 vote Thursday "allowed the city manager to execute a real estate sale of the facility to Foutch for $1." That allows Foutch to pursue about $8.3M in "historic tax credits and other financing for the project, estimated to cost" up to $30M (K.C. STAR, 2/17).