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.
[…] ANC 6B Commissioner Brian Flahaven provided a recap of the recent ANC meeting and a glance at how Hill East could be impacted if DC is chosen to host the Olympics. […]
This isn’t the first time DC metro area has tried to get the Olympics, I have the T-shirt from the previous go-round back in 2002 but lost out to New York (and ultimately London). Maybe those can be informative on what the current group has in mind. I do remember that this was going to be beyond – way beyond – DC proper and included Baltimore and Annapolis (Naval Academy facilities) as well. Saying that, I don’t know that it makes the bid any less ominous.
One press release said “USOC Site Evaluation team toured key venues during its brief stay in the Washington region including the proposed site for the Olympic Village-the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Maryland-and the proposed site of the Olympic Sports Complex at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.”
An Olympic village on Reservation 13 would not conform exactly to the long-time plan for the land. But, if London is a guide, it would result in high-density housing on a space that we cannot seem to get anything else to happen.
I think DC’s Olympic bid for the 2024 games is great for the city, and the impact on the Hill East neighborhood would be a net positive.
Hill East has already hosted a venue for the Summer Olympics already. In 1996 from July 20th to July 25th, a total of nine soccer men’s and women’s matches were played at RFK Stadium as part of the Summer Olympics held in Atlanta.
“But do we need to spend $10+ billion to bring the Olympics to DC to address the city’s affordable housing crisis?”
Money for the Olympics does not flow one way. Yes, money is spent, but money is made and recaptured as well (corporate sponsorship, etc.). There would be billions of dollars in economic stimulus involved for the regional economy.
A DC Olympics would accelerate an increase in the city’s affordable and workforce housing infrastructure. It would accelerate upgrades and expansion of the city’s mass transit infrastructure – buses, metro rail, ferries, and commuter rail. It would accelerate improvements to the city’s bridges, parks, rivers, and road infrastructure.
And, yes. We do need a major catalyst for all these things. We Americans (the residents and, hence by extension, the government) want, want, want but are not always willing to contribute what’s actually needed to properly upkeep our infrastructure. An olympics here in DC could go along way to move all that along, which would be a net positive for the city and the whole metropolitan region.
“How will the Olympics benefit Hill East?”
The Olympics could bring thousands of units of workforce housing to the neighborhood and environs. The Olympics would accelerate improvements to and cleanup of the Anacostia River that is adjacent to the neighborhood. It could also bring a spectacular waterfront park to the neighborhood. It could also motivate improvements to the nearby Langston Golf Course.
“Why is an Olympic stadium used for two weeks and perhaps 10 days annually thereafter the best future use for the RFK Stadium site?”
An Olympic Stadium can be made to be converted to the future home of our local football team. FedEx Field, their current home, will be 30 years old in 2027 – giving two years or so to convert the Olympic stadium to NFL standards after the 2024 games are over.
A stadium replacing RFK stadium would be host to more than 10 days of use annually. Think concerts, future site as a FIFA World Cup venue, annual Bowl games, CONCACAF matches, etc.
“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?”
I don’t find that the development of the Hill East land for the Olympics is counter to what is best for the neighborhood and city generally. An olympic configuration would still bring housing, parks, retail, transit, and river improvements to the neighborhood. I think Hill East residents can be a force to make sure that the city builds the land in a way that is complementary to what’s best for 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?”
Reservation 13’s inclusion in the Olympic bid would re-focus and accelerate efforts to implement a strategy for relocation of the services.
“How much is DC 2024 (or more likely, the city) going to spend to building Olympic venues and housing at RFK/Reservation 13?”
As the Reservation 13 site would be under the city’s control, favorable deals can be cut with developers to build the workforce and affordable housing. A deal can also be cut with the current NFL owner of our local team for the stadium for use after the olympics. Plus, there are dozens of DC 2024 board members involved (developers, investors, proven leaders) that have a vested interest in seeing our olympics succeed.
“Does Mayor Gray support the bid? And who on the Council supports the bid?”
Yes, Mayor Gray supports the olympic bid, and I’m sure support can be found among members of the DC Council. Yes, more information is needed though.
I think you have asked the right questions overall. The answers still need to be developed, and we are just in the early stages of that. An involved, optimistic, and supportive Hill East and DC citizenry can help ensure a successful olympics in this city.
It would be magical to see DC presented to the world in a capacity other than the headquarters of politics and the U.S. government. A short-term, two-week international event that would bring billions of dollars of economic stimulus to this region as well as much needed, long-term infrastructure improvements for our city’s future is well worth my support, and I hope other people in Hill East and the rest of DC can see the long-term benefits an olympics would bring.
[…] Olympic stadium, and nearby Hill East, which could have hosted an Olympic Village. Neighbors there complained that they were being left out of a process that would affect them […]