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Provision Could Stall Pursuit of New Redskins Stadium at RFK Stadium Site

RFK Stadium

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council passed a provision that could effectively stall any effort to build a new Washington Redskins stadium at the RFK Stadium site.

With the Redskins searching for stadium options beyond the 2027 expiration of their lease for FedEx Field–their current home in suburban Prince George’s County, MD–there has been debate about whether a new facility at the RFK site can be a solution. RFK Stadium will likely be demolished in the coming years, and proponents of a new NFL stadium argue that it presents the best option for bringing the Redskins back within the District. There’s also the feeling among many local residents that the best years in Redskins history come at RFK Stadium and a new facility at the site would help recapture some of that past glory for s team leading a bland suburban existence.

However, the pursuit of the Redskins could be complicated by a budget amendment passed by the D.C. Council on Tuesday. Backed by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, the provision prevents Events D.C. –the District’s convention and sports authority–from purchasing the RFK Stadium site from the federal government over the next two fiscal years. In addition, the amendment effectively prevents Events D.C. from spending any revenue over that period to secure an NFL franchise.

The motivation for the provision seems to have more to do with the council’s concerns over how Events D.C. manages its funds than it does over the idea of NFL stadium at the RFK site, but nevertheless it could complicate efforts to bring the Redskins into the District. More from the Washington Business Journal:

    • Mendelson successfully included an amendment to the budget bill barring Events D.C. from using any cash in fiscal 2019 or 2020 to buy the RFK stadium site from the federal government, or otherwise try to attract a pro football team to the District. The chairman stressed that this will serve as another method for ensuring tighter council control over Events D.C.’s spending. He noted the agency has insisted throughout this dispute that “every dollar is spoken for,” and he said this move ensures Events D.C. doesn’t use this money to buy the site without a full council discussion on the matter. [Council member Vincent] Gray backed an amendment to strip the provision from the budget, but it failed on a 9-4 vote.
    • The budget also now includes a prohibition on the city issuing any building permits at either the RFK site or at Franklin Park, a downtown space that’s planned for a total overhaul. The only way to reverse that ban is for the Office of Planning to submit a report on short-term rental housing to the Zoning Commission, which Mendelson believes is currently holding up the implementation of strict home sharing regulations the council passed last year. The chairman says Mayor Muriel Bowser is directing her staff to block the release of that report in a bid to slow-walk the law taking effect — Bowser has raised concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation.

One of the major uncertainties looming over the future of the 190-acre RFK Stadium site is control over the land. Events D.C. manages the RFK Stadium site under a lease with the National Park Service that expires in 2038. Longer control at the local level, whether it is through a purchase or lease extension, is seen as vital to any discussion of building a new stadium at the site. Land use has also been a subject of debate, as the current lease between NPS and the District contains very specific language limiting the site to a stadium, or public and recreational uses–-providing hurdles to any commercial development surrounding a new Redskins facility.

Built and designed as a multipurpose venue, RFK Stadium was home to the Redskins from 1961-1996. Though RFK Stadium remains standing, it has gone largely unused since MLS’s D.C. United–its last major sports tenant–played its final match there in the fall of 2017 and opened a new stadium the following summer.

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August Publications