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Long-Term Lease for RFK Stadium Site Fails to Make Spending Bill

RFK Stadium

Once again, a proposal at the federal level for a long-term lease to the RFK Stadium site–which could potentially facilitate a new Washington Redskins stadium project–has failed after being omitted from a spending bill.

With RFK Stadium set to be demolished by 2021 and the Redskins exploring facility options beyond the 2027 expiration of their current FedEx Field lease, there has been some sentiment for seeing the team return to the RFK site by way of a new stadium. However, a major obstacle to a new stadium at the RFK site is control of 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, transfer, or lease extension, is seen as vital to any discussion of building a new stadium at the site.

Last year, a proposal backed by congressional Republicans would have created a long-term lease for the site while effectively allowing commercial development to be built on the property, but it stalled after failing to be included in a spending bill. Another effort for a similar proposal, which would have included a long-term land lease, surfaced as part of the most recent spending bill debate, but it was ultimately left out of a package that was approved this month.

There were reportedly several concerns about the proposal that prevented it from moving forward, including the potential implications of tucking a long-term lease extension into a spending bill and controversy surrounding the team’s name. Additionally, there appears to be some sentiment on the federal level for D.C. officials to form a consensus on their vision for the site before moving forward with any sort of long-term agreement, including a lease, sale, or transfer. More from the Washington Post:

According to three congressional officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations, there was a push this month to include an RFK lease extension in the year-end spending package.

After private discussion, it was omitted.

Among the roadblocks, according to the officials with knowledge of the discussions, was Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, who feared that tucking a lease extension in an appropriations bill would set a bad precedent. Grijalva has also raised concerns in the past about dedicating federal land for the Redskins, whose name he has called offensive to Native Americans. A spokesman for Grijalva declined to comment Saturday.

Some congressional leaders want to see a united front on the District’s plan for the RFK land — reflecting the view not only of the D.C. mayor but also the D.C. Council and District residents — before approving a long-term lease, land transfer or sale.

Whether D.C. officials can ultimately form a consensus on including a new NFL stadium in plans for the RFK site remains to be seen. Some elected officials, including mayor Muriel Bowser, have been behind the idea, but there is also a contingent of elected leaders that seem to believe that uses such as affordable housing and recreation space should be prioritized over a new stadium. There would be multiple layers to any discussions about a new NFL stadium on the property, as there would likely have to be consideration of allowing ancillary commercial development that is not permitted under the current lease agreement, which contains very specific language limiting the site to a stadium, or public and recreational uses. For now, there will have to be coordination between local and federal officials to determine long-term control for the site, which is ripe to be remade considerably in the future with or without an NFL stadium.

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August Publications