More Information on the DC Olympic Bid

December 14, 2014

On Dec. 16, Washington 2024, the organization leading the city’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, will make their final presentation to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Washington 2024 is competing against Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco to be the U.S. bid city for the 2024 Games.

So far, Washington 2024 has refused to share their plans with the public. In attempt to learn more about the bid’s potential impact on Hill East, ANC 6B sent a letter (pdf) last month to Washington 2024 requesting a community meeting prior to the USOC’s final decision on a U.S. bid city. Unfortunately, Washington 2024 declined ANC 6B’s meeting request (pdf). They plan to start their community engagement process when/if Washington, DC is selected as the U.S. bid city.

While Washington 2024 declined ANC 6B’s invitation for a meeting, the organization did accept an invitation to speak at Councilmember Vincent Orange’s Small Business and Economic Development Summit held on Fri., Dec. 12. Since we can’t get a meeting with Washington 2024 in Hill East, I decided to attend the summit to learn more about the bid. Here is what I heard:

  • The USOC’s decision on a U.S. bid city could come as early as next week or as late as next January. If Washington, DC is selected, the USOC and city will have until Sept. 2015 to formally apply to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the 2024 games. The IOC will make its final decision on a host city in Sept. 2017.
  • Not surprisingly, Washington 2024 did not share the specific plans they will be presenting to the USOC. I’m not sure if the decision to keep the public in the dark about the plans is being made by Washington 2024 or the USOC but it is a bad decision. Putting on an Olympics requires a multi-billion dollar public investment. The secretive nature of the process has helped fuel skepticism about the bids in Washington and the other three potential bid cities.
  • RFK Stadium and Reservation 13 are under consideration for a new Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village respectively, though other sites are also being considered for these venues.
  • Robert Sweeney, senior advisor to Washington 2024, noted that the Olympics could be a catalyst to develop sites like Reservation 13 where redevelopment plans largely have failed to take off. I responded that the city is largely to blame for the state of Reservation 13 today and that it shouldn’t take the Olympics to develop a waterfront site sitting on top of a Metro station.
  • Sweeney did mention the Reservation 13 master plan and said that Washington 2024 would follow the plan in developing an Olympic Village if the site is chosen for such a use. I was pleasantly surprised that the organization was aware of the master plan and had thought about how to incorporate it. However, using the site for an Olympic Village would mean the city wouldn’t see the housing and retail slated for Reservation 13 until 2025 at the earliest.
  • Sweeney reaffirmed that Washington 2024 would begin an “extensive” community outreach campaign beginning in Jan./Feb. 2015 if the city is chosen as the U.S. bid city. Community briefings would be held in all eight wards and he recommitted to holding a community meeting in Hill East.
  • There was a lot of focus on the legacy of an Olympic Games. Andrew Altman, former head of the legacy corporation created for the London 2012 games (and former head of the DC Office of Planning) talked about how London began their Olympic planning by envisioning what the Olympic park and venues would look like in 2030. Washington 2024 is modeling their effort after the London games.
  • In addition to Councilmember Orange, Mayor-Elect Muriel Bowser spoke at the Summit in support of the Olympic bid and will be attending the Dec.16 USOC presentation. It appears that the Mayor, Mayor-Elect and DC Council are all behind the bid though they haven’t held a single hearing on the subject nor officially voted to support the bid. If Washington, DC is awarded the games, the city will have to sign a financial guarantee to fully fund the games and any cost overruns.

Community engagement should be the centerpiece – not an afterthought – of an Olympic bid. Residents shouldn’t have to attend business roundtables and summits to learn basic details. I plan to continue pushing city leaders and Washington 2024 to share more information about the bid.

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Past Time for Details from Washington 2024

November 25, 2014

Two recent editorials – one from Washington Business Journal Editor-in-Chief Douglas Fruehling and the other from ANC 6B10 Commissioner-Elect Denise Krepp on The Hill is Home – call on Washington 2024 to start sharing the details of their bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. I agree with both Fruehling and Krepp that the decision to bid on an Olympics is a huge decision – one that should not be made behind closed doors. And given that RFK Stadium and Reservation 13 have been identified as potential sites for a new Olympic stadium and Olympic village respectively, Hill East residents deserve to know how an Olympic bid would affect the future of the neighborhood and waterfront.

Estimates put the potential cost of hosting an Olympic Games at $15-20 billion. DC residents deserve to know how Washington 2024 and the city plan to finance such a large investment, particularly when the city is already bumping up against its debt cap. Mayor Vince Gray has proposed using a land swap instead of borrowing to fund a new DC United Stadium. If the Mayor and Council are concerned about exceeding the debt cap on a roughly $150 million dollar investment, how are they going to find funding for a $15 billion dollar Olympics? Yet Mayor Gray, Mayor-Elect Muriel Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie have all signaled support for the bid.

And why hasn’t the DC Council held a hearing on the proposed bid? Earlier this year, the Council found time to examine a ridiculous and unrealistic RFK Stadium/hotel zone/waterpark/golf course bill but it can’t find the time to hold a hearing on Washington 2024?

It’s time for Washington 2024 and city leaders to share specific details about the Olympic bid. To that end, ANC 6B has sent the following letter to Washington 2024 inviting the organization to present their plans at a community meeting. We hope to work with our colleagues in ANCs 7D, 7F and 6A to find a meeting date and time that works for all commissions representing or adjacent to RFK Stadium and Reservation 13.

—-ANC 6B Letter to Washington 2024—-

November 13, 2014

Russ Ramsey
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Washington 2024
2200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
5th Floor East
Washington, DC 20037

Dear Chairman Ramsey,

We write to invite you to attend a community meeting in the next month to discuss specific details of the Washington 2024 Summer Olympic bid. At a properly noticed meeting with a quorum present on November 13, 2014, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted 8-0 to send this letter and invitation.

We are aware that Washington, DC is a finalist to be the United States bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. While few details have been released about your plans for venues, media reports suggest that a good portion of the eastern end of Capitol Hill, including RFK Stadium, the DC Armory and Reservation 13, are being discussed as sites for an Olympic Stadium, Olympic Village and other venues. Our commission represents the Hill East residents who live immediately to the west of these sites.

Before our commission can consider supporting your efforts, we need an opportunity to learn more about your plans and to ask you questions before the United States Olympic Committee selects a bid city in early 2015. Our questions include:

  • What venues are being planned for the land surrounding RFK Stadium, the DC Armory and Reservation 13 (site of the former DC General hospital)?
  • Given that most hotels are west of these sites, how will spectators travel to the various venues without further complicating the normal congestion along our roads?
  • Besides the site of RFK Stadium and Reservation 13, are there other potential Olympic Stadium or Village locations in mind?
  • How much will the District of Columbia have to invest in the Olympic bid? What will be the breakdown in public versus private dollars?
  • How do you plan to engage surrounding neighbors as the bid progresses? A community advisory committee? Monthly e-mail list?

In the next few days, I will follow-up with your staff to find a date/time and Hill East venue in the next month that works for a meeting. We will also coordinate this date and time with our colleague commissions who represent constituents on or surrounding the eastern end of Capitol Hill – ANC 7D (RFK Stadium and the Armory), ANC 7F (Reservation 13) and ANC 6A (residents immediately east and northeast of both sites).

In your June 2014 press release, Washington 2024’s Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis said that DC would host the “most transparent” games in history. It is in this spirit that we send this invitation. We look forward to learning more about the bid and how it will affect our constituents and city.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to hearing from you,

Sincerely,

Brian Flahaven
Chair, ANC 6B


How DC’s Olympic Bid Could Affect Hill East

June 16, 2014

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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).
  5. How much is DC 2024 (or more likely, the city) going to spend to building Olympic venues and housing at RFK/Reservation 13?
  6. 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.

 


Upcoming Neighborhood Events

June 5, 2014
  • Congressional Cemetery is hosting the Annual Pride 5K run tomorrow (Fri., June 6) at 7 pm. While the race is sold out, you can still volunteer by e-mailing volunteer@dcfrontrunners.org.
  • Canal Park’s Thursday Movie Series kicks off tonight (June 5) with “The Sandlot” at sundown (8:45 pm). Canal Park is located at 200 M Street SE.
  • Be sure to check out the One City Youth Truck Touch event this Sat., June 7, 9 am – 2 pm in RFK Parking Lot 7.
  • Residents of the 700 and 800 blocks of Kentucky Ave SE are hosting a block party this Sat., June 7 beginning at 3:30 pm.
  • Councilmember Tommy Wells will be hosting Ward 6 Family Day on Sat., June 21, 1 pm – 5 pm at Eliot-Hine Middle School (1830 Constitution Ave NE).

Testimony in Opposition to B20-563, RFK Stadium Study Bill

February 25, 2014

This morning, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B in opposition to B20-563, the District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013 in front of the DC Council’s Committee on Economic Development. Here is ANC 6B’s written testimony:

Good morning Madam Chair and members of the Committee on Economic Development. My name is Brian Flahaven, and I serve as chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. My single member district, 6B09, lies in Hill East and is located immediately west of the Hill East Waterfront, also known as Reservation 13. My district also includes Barney Circle, the Historic Congressional Cemetery, and the Eastern Branch Building.

I’m here today to express ANC 6B’s strong opposition to Bill 20-563, the District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 8-0 during its February 11, 2014 meeting with a quorum present.

As you know, B20-563 requires the Mayor to conduct a study to determine the “economic feasibility, economic impact and costs” of developing a new 100,000 seat superdome, indoor waterpark, soundstage, PGA-level golf course and hotel zone at the RFK Stadium, DC Armory and Langston Golf Course sites. If enacted, the bill requires the study to be completed by Feb. 15, 2015.

While we oppose this bill for a number of reasons, let me start with a point on which we and the bill’s co-sponsors do agree: there should be a comprehensive study on future uses for the RFK Stadium site, 190-acres that encompass RFK Stadium, the DC Armory, the Maloof Skate Park and surface parking lots.

However, ANC 6B believes that the best approach to determining future uses at the RFK Stadium site is a community planning process that begins with a blank slate. This is the strategy used by the city and community to develop the master plan for Reservation 13, the 67-acre parcel of land that lies immediately to the south of the RFK site.

As you may know, when Mayor Gray announced plans to move DC United to a new stadium in Southwest, he also directed Events DC, the city’s convention and stadium authority, to oversee a study on future uses of the site. While we are concerned that Events DC will only consider uses for the site that involve a new stadium, at least they are starting with a relatively blank slate and plan to engage the community.

Unfortunately, instead of starting with a blank slate, the 6 co-introducers of B20-563 have begun with the conventional wisdom that a new stadium is the best future use for the site – and then proceeded to surround the new stadium with random pet projects that will add little to no value to our neighborhood and the city as a whole.  Our commission and community were not asked by the councilmembers to weigh in on the bill, nor were we engaged by them prior to the its introduction. This is but one of ANC6B’s many objections to B20-563 – seven in total – that I am here to share with this committee.

As I’ve noted, our number one concern is the lack of community engagement in both the drafting of the bill and that envisioned during the period of the feasibility study.

Number two – the bill is duplicative. As I mentioned, Mayor Gray has already asked Events DC to conduct a study of future uses for the site. Why should DC’s hardworking taxpayers foot the bill for a second study before the first has even begun?

Number three – the proposed complex envisioned in the bill does not appear to be well-planned. Why would we build more than 1,000 new hotel rooms for a stadium that would be primarily used for 10 football games a year? If the idea is to hold more than sporting events at the complex, aren’t we competing with our own taxpayer-funded convention center which is still struggling to attract events? What happens to the DC National Guard when the Armory is turned into a soundstage? Where would the hotels, housing and retail be built since most of the RFK Stadium site sits on a floodplain and, under federal lease terms, must be used for stadium or recreational use? Why prioritize national, corporate restaurant chains and businesses over local, independent DC-owned businesses? These are just a few of a long list of questions that suggest a lack of planning in drafting the bill.

Number four – the city does not need to fund a study to determine that this plan is not feasible. The proposed complex would cost billions in taxpayer dollars with little return to the city. At most, the proposed superdome would host 10-15 events annually. You can’t host the Final Four and Superbowl every year – and a new football stadium is not going to attract the hotels and retail envisioned in the plan.

Number five – the complex lacks neighborhood-serving uses. ANC 6B believes that the RFK site should include uses that serve both visitors and residents. The sponsors in the bill seem more interested in meeting the needs of professional athletes and tourists with their proposed complex.

Number six — the Anacostia waterfront appears to be an afterthought in the plan. Any development on the site should work to connect the surrounding neighborhood to the waterfront, not act as a barrier.

And finally – we are concerned that the real purpose of the bill and study is to delay any positive development on the RFK site. For example, we are eager to see the wasteful RFK surface parking lots turned into something useful, like recreational fields. If this study moves forward, city officials working to preserve the parking lots for a future stadium will use it as an excuse to block any meaningful development in the short term.

For these reasons, we ask the committee to oppose B20-563. Let’s work together on a real, feasible study for the RFK site – one that involves the community and begins with a blank slate.

Thank you and I’d be happy to answer any questions.


*UPDATED* Weigh In Today on Absurd RFK Stadium Study Bill

February 24, 2014

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the DC Council’s Committee on Economic Development will hold a hearing on Bill 20-563, the District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013.  If enacted, this bill would require the Mayor to conduct a study to determine the “economic feasibility, economic impact and costs” of developing a new 100,000 seat superdome, indoor waterpark, soundstage, PGA-level golf course and hotel zone at the RFK Stadium, DC Armory and Langston Golf Course sites. If enacted, the bill requires the study to be completed by Feb. 15, 2015.

As I’ve detailed in a previous post, this is a really bad bill. Instead of outlining a thoughtful, open planning process that involves the community in determining future uses for the RFK Stadium site, B20-563 begins with the conventional wisdom (a new stadium to replace the old one) and surrounds it with a random grab bag of pet projects that will do little for the neighborhood and city.

Unfortunately, six Councilmembers (Alexander, Barry, Bonds, Evans, Graham and Orange) co-introduced the bill, including three of the five members who currently sit on the Committee on Economic Development. The co-introducers need only one additional vote to get a majority on the full Council. We need to make it clear that this bill did not involve community input and lacks support in the neighborhood.

Please take a moment today to e-mail to the members of the Committee on Economic Development and urge them to oppose B20-563. Be sure to copy Robert Hawkins who staffs the committee for Chairperson Bowser. And make sure you ask that your statement be submitted for the record.

Here are the e-mails:

You can also contact Councilmember offices by phone.

Finally, you can watch the hearing (and all Council hearings) by visiting the DC Council website. The hearing will be at 10 am in Room 120. I plan to testify in opposition on behalf of ANC 6B.

Thanks for your help!

Updated 2/24/14:  If you need additional background information on the bill, I outlined my concerns about the bill in a Dec. 19, 2013 post. And here is a link to the actual bill (pdf). 


Vincent Orange’s “Vision” for the RFK Stadium Site

December 19, 2013

I first learned of Councilmember (and mayoral candidate) Vincent Orange’s District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013 on November 7, the day it was introduced. The bill requires the Mayor to conduct a study to determine the “economic feasibility, economic impact and costs” of developing a new 100,000 seat superdome, indoor waterpark, soundstage, PGA-level golf course and hotel zone at the RFK Stadium, DC Armory and Langston Golf Course sites. If enacted, the bill requires the study to be completed by Feb. 15, 2015.

Based on media reports, I fully expected B20-563 to be 1-2 pages of legislative text. Instead, the bill is 15 pages long, detailing every pet project Councilmember Orange and others have dreamed up for the site. Here are some examples of what is included.

  • A proposed “hotel zone” would include a minimum of three hotels, adding a combined total of 1000 rooms to the site. The hotel zone would also include a 24/7 spa, fitness and wellness establishment that includes an Olympic size pool, leisure pool, children’s pool and sauna. And don’t forget the “health conscious café open 7 days a week featuring juice and smoothies bar, organic foods and healthy eating options.”
  • Apparently, the more than 1,000 hotel rooms in the hotel zone are not enough, because the bill also calls for another 200-300 room three star hotel to go along with the indoor waterpark resort. The waterpark also includes 15,000 sq. ft. of conference and meeting facilities. I’m not sure why you would build conference and meeting facilities in the waterpark and a pool facility in the hotel zone.
  • The detail for the hotel zone and indoor waterpark pales in comparison to the detail provided on the multimedia soundstage. The soundstage, which apparently would be in the DC Armory, includes everything from a television recording studio and production offices to green rooms and a paint shop.
  • The bill does call for retail on the site, mainly in the “Robert F. Kennedy Domed Stadium Complex” which includes the 100,000 seat stadium, two “nationally recognized” department stores, two nationally recognized family restaurant chains, one nationally recognized chain bar or nightclub, one nationally recognized high end restaurant, one nationally recognized movie theatre, one independently owned restaurant and a beer garden. The bill is silent on whether the beer garden must be nationally recognized.
  • The bill does call for some housing on the site, but it is very vague. There would apparently be affordable housing units for low-income residents and students. It is also unclear as to where the housing would be built.

This is a small sampling of the ridiculous level of detail in the bill (I didn’t even mention the required 3D model). It would be laughable, except five (!) additional councilmembers joined Councilmember Orange in co-introducing the bill – Councilmembers Alexander, Barry, Bonds, Evans and Graham. This tally is one short of a Council majority.

Apparently, almost half of the DC Council actually thinks it is worth taxpayer dollars to study Councilmember Orange’s dreamland. Why would we build more than 1,000 additional hotel rooms for a stadium that will be primarily used for 10 football games a year? If the idea is to hold more than sporting events at the complex, aren’t we competing with our own taxpayer-funded convention center which is still struggling to attract events? What happens to the DC National Guard when the Armory is turned into a soundstage? Where would the hotels, housing and retail be built since most of the RFK Stadium site sits on a floodplain and under federal lease terms must be used for stadium or recreational use? And why would we fund this study when Mayor Gray has already asked Events DC to conduct a study on future uses for the RFK Stadium site? (Events DC has already posted a Request for Expressions of Interest seeking a consultant to conduct the study)

Clearly, Councilmember Orange’s plan is not feasible and not in the best interests of the city. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on a poorly thought out study, the DC Council should look to fund realistic future uses for the site – uses that serve both residents and visitors. An example is the Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park proposal, which aims to turn a portion of the stadium’s north parking lots into recreational fields. Not only is this project feasible, it also responds to a critical need for more recreational field space in the city.

What do you think about Councilmember Orange’s vision for the RFK Stadium site?