What is the Best Future Use for the RFK Stadium Site?

With a new stadium deal for DC United seemingly in place, the city must now determine what to do with RFK Stadium and its surrounding land. Over the weekend, the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis reported that Events DC, the city’s official convention and sports authority, will hire an outside firm to evaluate options with and without a new stadium on the 190-acre site.

The redevelopment of the RFK site could be a potential boon to Hill East and the entire city if city leaders are open to some creative and imaginative thinking. But it already appears that Mayor Gray and Ward 2 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jack Evans have determined that a new Redskins stadium is the obvious future and best use of the site. According to Evans, “There’s nothing else you can do there.”

As usual when it comes to all things Hill East, Councilmember Evans is wrong. While I understand the lure of the site’s tradition and history, a new football stadium at RFK will bring the city and the neighborhood very little. First, football stadiums are used 10 times a year for games, leaving an empty shell the remainder of the time. Second, since tailgating is part of the football experience, football stadiums are typically surrounded by empty parking lots. At RFK, that would mean the continued separation of the surrounding neighborhood from the Anacostia waterfront. And third, even if you support a stadium, the Redskins lease at FedEx Field is not up until 2026, more than a decade from now, and there is certainly no guarantee that Dan Snyder will agree to move the team back into the city.

Instead of solely pining for a new stadium that will bring little, Mayor Gray, Councilmember Evans and other city leaders should be open to other uses for the site. A neighborhood-serving sports complex with recreational fields, suggested by Ward 6 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, is an obvious future use for a portion of the site. Hill East is in desperate need of more playing fields for youth sports and activities and a sports complex would comply with the terms of the National Park Service lease. And if a new stadium is inevitable, surrounding it with recreational fields that serve the neighborhood would be much better than preserving the existing surface parking lots.

Speaking of the NPS lease, why can’t it be changed? Why can’t the city develop a comprehensive plan for the site similar to the National Capital Planning Commission’s 2006 plan (pdf) that includes significant recreational use and some mixed-use development on portions of the site? Such a plan could be used to lobby Congress to amend the lease and/or transfer the land.  That is exactly the strategy the city used 10 years ago to successfully obtain Reservation 13, the 67-acre site that sits immediately south of the RFK site, from the federal government.

Unfortunately, instead of asking appropriate agencies like the Office of Planning or the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to review alternatives for the site, the Mayor has asked Events DC to take the lead. While I like the folks over at Events DC, their business is managing convention centers and sporting venues. Is there any doubt that they will recommend a stadium-focused option?

Hill East residents need to be involved in determining the future of the RFK site. Working with my commission colleagues, I plan to ask Events DC how their consultant will engage the public in determining alternatives. The city has already dropped the ball on development at Reservation 13. Let’s prevent them from fumbling away another great opportunity at RFK.

What do you think the city should do with the RFK site? Post your thoughts below.

12 Responses to What is the Best Future Use for the RFK Stadium Site?

  1. Lou says:

    I am in total agreement with the development of a community recreation facility with full use of the water front area.

  2. […] “As usual when it comes to all things Hill East, Councilmember Evans is wrong.” (Brian Flahaven) […]

  3. Circle Thomas says:

    Makes a lot of sense, actually. The chances of the return of the Washington Football Team are slim and far-off, and knowing Snyder, the city would probably be screwed in the process. One thing I would like to see considered at the site is a gallery or museum of some sort, which would provide an all-seasons destination there that goes beyond a park or memorial. With the National Mall now essentially filled up, it would be a good location should the Smithsonian ever build the American Latino Museum, or decide to expand the Hirshorn. Similarly, I know Corcoran still wants new, bigger space, and I for one would be willing to support a new building for them at the RFK site (versus moving to VA, which I do not support).

  4. Carlos A. says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Brian that this site would be much better for the city and the neighborhood if it were developed similar to the NCPC’s plan with public green space and mixed use rather than empty parking lots most of the year.

  5. sara-dc says:

    Why do every sports team need to have their own stadium? It wasn’t always like that back in the days.

  6. Evan says:

    Add a metro station to the above-ground tracks in the north parking lot to create a metro/streetcar interchange on the west bank of the river.
    Once that is in place, the land would be extremely valuable for mixed commercial, retail, and residential.
    For the rest of it, rip out the parking lots. Nothing could be worse than that vast sea of asphalt.

  7. Hill Buzz says:

    […] 6B Commissioner Brian Flahaven asked what the best uses for the RFK stadium site will be once DC United […]

  8. David C says:

    I agree that a recreational facility makes the most sense. Since the land is owned by NPS and the Kennedy family is interested in maintaining a memorial to him, I’ve always thought that a Robert F. Kennedy National Recreation Area made sense. The Presidio was turned into a NRA and it has quite a few sports fields, trails and playgrounds mixed in among the historic buildings. Since the RFK site has less of that (and no cemetery or golf course) it could be almost all sports and recreation facilities.

  9. ET says:

    Sometimes I don’t care too much what is there just as long as they fix/make easier the East Capitol situation for people exiting from and onto 295……

    Too bad Park Service is involved because frankly opening it up to residential and commercial/recreational and extending the street grid would be better.

  10. jay says:

    Why can’t a new stadium for the Redskins be compatible with mixed used options and recreational fields and facilities for the community? I definitely agree with getting rid of surrounding parking surfaces, which should be put to better use. If you go to any major football university, take a Big Ten school like Michigan or Penn State, you will see people parking in the grass on golf courses, soccer fields, baseball fields, farms, cow pastures, and parks during football weekends. There is only a small handful of football games throughout the year so it doesn’t do much damage to the surrounding fields, and universities like the above with seating for over 100,000 people accommodate crowds much larger than any NFL game. Universities also have bustling downtowns with restaurants and housing all within a few blocks of stadiums, and the Capitol Hill community is almost like a college campus itself with people who want to live within walking distance to work and be able to have a walkable neighborhood with shops and retail nearby. I think the RFK site could bring in a new era of stadium development that fits inside a community, instead of other stadiums around the country built solely for the gameday commuter crowd.

  11. dcgent says:

    Brian–maybe contact the group behind this failed Alexandria proposal? Would it meet the Congressional lease requirements? http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/breaking_ground/2013/08/bid-withdrawn-for-alexandria-sports.html

  12. […] Why is an Olympic stadium used for two weeks and perhaps 10 days annually thereafter the best future use for the RFK Stadium site? I’ve previously shared my concerns about building a new stadium. […]

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