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.