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Will NFL return to RFK Stadium site?

RFK Stadium construction

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has stepped up her efforts to bring a new Washington Commanders stadium to the old RFK Stadium location as part of a redevelopment of the 174-acre site.

D.C. Stadium opened on October 1, 1961, with the Washington Redskins hosting the New York Giants in a game attracting 37,767 fans to the new facility. While that number may seem small today, it was a huge improvement to how the Redskins drew at their previous home, Griffith Stadium. In terms of fan amenities, it was a huge step up from the seemingly ancient home of the Washington Senators. This was a new era in Washington, and a thoroughly modern stadium was part of that new era. It was also one of the more notable stadiums of the 1970s and 1980s, with Redskins fans literally rocking the stands in one of the NFL’s noisiest venues.

But that atmosphere was not treasured by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who decided on a move to suburban Landover, Md. after attempts to build a domed stadium at the RFK Stadium site failed. FedEx Field opened in 1997 as the largest stadium in the NFL with a 80,116 capacity, but Cooke didn’t live long enough to see his team play there.

Since then various plans were hatched to bring the Redskins back to the District; Dan Snyder explored the possibility as owner of the Washington Redskins, along with potential stadium sites in Virginia and Maryland. But building a new stadium would be a complex task involving multiple government bodies, and the Redskins name didn’t help efforts any.

New Commanders owner Josh Harris has reopened the new-stadium search, and his efforts are now being aided by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who sees a new mixed-use development at the old RFK Stadium site, anchored by a new NFL stadium. Demolition of RFK Stadium began in January 2023, clearing the way for new development. The site is controlled by the U.S. Government and the National Park Service, but the District of Columbia leases the land, and there’s currently a bill in Congress extending that lease for 99 years and expanding the allowable uses of the site, including a mixed-use development.

One other huge issue facing Bowser, Harris and D.C. officials: If the federal red tape was successfully navigated, what would a funding plan look like? Working with a developer on a funding plan would seem to make the most sense, diverting new tax dollars toward paying for a new stadium, instead of using general-fund revenues. From the Washington Post:

At Wednesday’s meeting, Bowser said that her administration this week selected a pair of contractors for a $394,000 “sports study” to evaluate funding structures for a potential NFL stadium — and to come up with a plan to address the financial needs of the city’s existing professional sports franchises. The study’s contractors include the national real estate management and consulting company Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc., and the Robert Bobb Group, headed by the well-connected former D.C. city administrator Robert Bobb. Bobb served under former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams (D) during tense negotiations and disagreement with the council about whether to devote public funds toward building Nationals Park.

As part of Bowser’s sports study, the two firms will be tasked with exploring a question that Kingman Park Civic Association organizers said was also front of mind for many in the neighborhood: As one resident wrote in a question to Bowser, would the city use taxpayer dollars to finance a new NFL stadium when there are “other pressing community needs?”…

“I believe where we will be with RFK, when we get control of it, is that we will prepare the land, the infrastructure — and we’d have to do that anyway whether there’s a stadium there or not,” Bowser said. “We, the taxpayers, are going to develop the infrastructure for the housing, the parks, for all the things you said, it will require the District to invest in the infrastructure. I expect that will be the case at RFK Stadium.”


August Publications