On June 13, the United States Olympic Committee announced that DC is a finalist to be the U.S. bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. In a press release, Ted Leonsis, vice chair of DC 2024, the committee of local business leaders working on the DC bid, stated:
“This is about how investments will accelerate existing development plans for Washington, Virginia and Maryland to create a permanent legacy of affordable housing, employment, transportation and environmental improvements in our neighborhoods. It is also about the Washington region building the most transparent, greenest, most wired and most athlete-centric Games in history. And it is about bringing the world to Washington and bringing Washington to the world.”
Well, given that there is almost zero information about the bid, budget and venues on the DC 2024 website, the “most transparent” games in history are off to a shaky start. But the Leonsis quote also gets at another common argument made by supporters of hosting an Olympics – that the two-week extravaganza can address major issues and concerns facing the host city. The reference to affordable housing is not an accident as everyone is aware of the lack of affordable housing in DC. But do we need to spend $10+ billion to bring the Olympics to DC to address the city’s affordable housing crisis?
Olympics supporters also like to point out how the event can increase civic pride, boost tourism and push cities to invest in infrastructure and transportation improvements that will benefit residents after the games are over. In a July 2012 article in The Atlantic, Andrew Zimbalist, an economist from Smith College who studies the economic impact of mega-sporting events, does a great job of debunking these arguments. Unlike other cities, we certainly do not need the Olympics to boost tourism or put us on the map. And we shouldn’t invest millions in sports infrastructure that will be rarely used.
While all DC residents should be concerned about a potential Olympic bid, Hill East residents should be especially concerned. Why? Though DC 2024 has not released any information about the location of proposed venues, the Washington Post has reported that the current RFK Stadium site is under consideration for a new Olympic stadium. And given the need for numerous other venues to be located in close proximity to housing for the athletes, I think it is safe to assume that Reservation 13, the 67-acre site of the former DC General hospital campus that sits immediately south of RFK Stadium, is also under consideration in the plans.
This is not good news for our neighborhood. The city has just moved forward on the first phase of the long-stalled, community-supported Reservation 13 master plan. And with DC United set to move out of RFK Stadium in the coming years, the city has an opportunity to think creatively about future uses of this critical site. The Olympics bid potentially puts all of this on hold and creates additional uncertainty about development plans.
If Reservation 13 and RFK Stadium are part of the Olympics bid, I hope DC 2024 and city officials will answer the following questions:
- How will the Olympics benefit Hill East? The land targeted for Olympic venues is already valuable and will be even more so in the coming years. What is the opportunity cost of locking this land up for the Olympics versus pursuing mixed-use development now?
- 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.
- What advantages does an Olympic plan for Reservation 13 have over the community-supported master plan? Why should we develop this land to the specifications of the International Olympic Committee versus the reality of what best serves the neighborhood and city?
- Does Reservation 13’s inclusion in the Olympic bid mean the city really does have a strategy in place for relocating the emergency homeless shelters and other services at Reservation 13? It is amazing how supposedly insurmountable political obstacles tend to crumble when sports-related facilities are proposed (see training facility debate).
- How much is DC 2024 (or more likely, the city) going to spend to building Olympic venues and housing at RFK/Reservation 13?
- What is the city’s current involvement in the Olympics bid? Does Mayor Gray support the bid? And who on the Council supports the bid?
Of course, there is no guarantee that DC will be selected as the U.S. bid city (Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco are also in the running) nor is there a guarantee DC will ultimately be selected to host the games. But the longer that DC stays in the running, the more likely the unacceptable status quo for both RFK Stadium and Reservation 13 remains in place. And that would be a shame for the city and Hill East.
What do you think about DC’s Olympic bid and its potential impact on Hill East? Post your thoughts below.