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Redskins Stadium Provision Sparks Debate in Congress

FedEx Field

As the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to shift parties, a proposed Washington Redskins stadium provision for the RFK Stadium site is sparking plenty of debate.

On Friday, The Washington Post reported that some officials are lobbying to include a provision concerning a potential Redskins stadium and surrounding development at the RFK Stadium site in a larger spending bill. There is plenty of sentiment for a new stadium there, as RFK Stadium was the team’s home from 1961-1996 and is expected to be demolished in the coming years now that its final professional sports tenant–MLS’s D.C. United–has left and opened its own facility.

However, any future development of the RFK Stadium would have to go through a complex process. The city has control of the RFK Stadium site under a lease with the National Park Service that expires in 2038, and that agreement contains very specific language that limits usage to a stadium, or public and recreational uses. With the Democratic Party set to take control of the House of Representatives at the beginning of 2019, congressional Republicans are floating a bill regarding the development of a new facility on the RFK Stadium land. While this provision would not automatically trigger a new facility at the RFK Stadium site, it would extend the existing lease for 99 years and include language that could effectively pave the way for commercial development to surround the facility. More from the Washington Post:

Developing the RFK site, which is on federally owned land along the Anacostia River, is politically fraught. The city controls the land only through 2038 under a National Park Service lease that states the land must be used for “stadium purposes” or “recreational facilities, open space, or public outdoor recreation opportunities” only, precluding commercial development.

According to one congressional official and a D.C. official, the language under consideration would extend the existing lease for 99 years and remove the recreation-only language, thus opening the site to other, commercial development.

A Democratic congressional aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions said members of the Appropriations committees are aware that Republican leadership and the White House are exploring adding the stadium provision to the bill. But no specific text has been presented, and Democrats have not taken a position on whether they would support or oppose its inclusion in the final bill.

Locally, Democratic D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser has been among the proponents of a new Redskins stadium at the RFK Stadium site, floating it as a potential anchor for redevelopment of the sprawling property. While there is not a concrete plan for a new stadium there at this point, the model of a major sports facility anchoring surrounding commercial development is one that officials have increasingly relied on to build venues within the District.

However, the provision is not final, and is already drawing concerns among Democratic lawmakers. One of them is Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum, the incoming leader of the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.  McCoullum, a co-chair of the Native American Caucus, raised criticism that the Redskins moniker is an offensive stereotype, and believes that a more thorough process should be taken if the federal government is to give D.C. more leeway in allowing commercial development on publicly owned land. More from a separate Washington Post report:

“That’s not something the federal government should be condoning, encouraging or be a part of,” said McCollum, a co-chair of the congressional Native American Caucus. “Is it because there are no tribes here, that it’s okay — they really don’t exist, we can pretend that this doesn’t mean anything? It means a great deal to young Native American children, that means a great deal to Native American veterans. It means a great deal to me.”…

“This is a radical change, and it needs to really be examined and looked at,” she said of any long-term lease. “I mean, what’s the value of the property? If it goes to D.C. and they’re going to turn around and lease and make money on it, we have to make sure that the federal taxpayer is whole on this.”

“I’m not opposed to D.C. doing great things in the community here,” she added. “But we need to make sure that we follow a process, that we don’t open ourselves up to somebody saying, ‘Well, you did this for D.C., Why can’t you do it for this group over here?’”

Discussion of a new stadium for the Redskins have unfolded for the last several years, as the team is looking for options beyond the expiration of its FedEx Field (above) lease in 2027. That facility is located in suburban Prince George’s County, MD, and Maryland has shown interest in retaining the club as part of ongoing discussions to gain control of 300 acres of federal land near the MGM National Harbor casino. Virginia, meanwhile, has previously shown interest in landing the team, but its push has seemed to cool since Ralph Northam succeeded Terry McAuliffe as the state’s governor.

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August Publications