THE CASE FOR RFK

Evans: New Red­skins sta­dium at for­mer site a win-win

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

We are just a few days away from the 20th an­niver­sary of the worst year of pro­fes­sional sports in the District.

There may be some ar­gu­ment as to whether 1997 was the worst year of pro sports within the bound­aries of the city. But I don’t see how.

There were no pro­fes­sional sports in the District in 1997.

There was no ma­jor league base­ball here then, of course, and the Red­skins had left RFK Sta­dium the year be­fore for their first sea­son at what was then called Jack Kent Cooke Sta­dium in the Mary­land sub­urbs. Al­ready in Prince Ge­orge’s County were the Cap­i­tals and the Bul­lets, two fran­chises play­ing their fi­nal sea­sons at US Air­ways Arena, still a year away from mov­ing to the then-MCI Cen­ter in 1998.

I was re­minded of 1997 by

D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans, one of the Wash­ing­ton lead­ers who helped turn the city back into a le­git­i­mate sports town.

“In 1997, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., be­came the only ma­jor city in Amer­ica that had no sports fran­chises within its bound­aries,” Evans told me in my con­ver­sa­tion with him in the lat­est episode of my pod­cast “Cigars & Curve­balls, avail­able here on The Wash­ing­ton Times web­site and for down­load on iTunes and Google Play. “There was noth­ing here.”

In the 20 years since, Evans’ com­mit­ment and be­lief in the power of sports in the com­mu­nity helped trans­form the city, from the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter down­town to Na­tion­als Park in South­east.

“To­day, we are among the three or four cities in Amer­ica that have ev­ery pro­fes­sional fran­chise in the city ex­cept for the pro­fes­sional foot­ball team, the Red­skins, which I am work­ing on get­ting them back,” Evans said. “So we have re­ally made enor­mous progress on the pro­fes­sional sports front that has co­in­cided with the re­vival of the city.” He ad­dressed that effort to bring the Red­skins, who are look­ing to move to a new home, back into the city, along with fu­ture plans for the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter and how close the Mon­treal Ex­pos came to call­ing North­ern Vir­ginia their home in our “Cigars & Curve­balls” con­ver­sa­tion.

Com­pet­ing with the sub­urbs

Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been very vo­cal about his com­mit­ment to build­ing a new home for the Red­skins, whose train­ing camp is a gov­ern­ment-sub­si­dized com­plex in Rich­mond and whose head­quar­ters are lo­cated in Ash­burn in Loudoun County — of­ten cited as a po­ten­tial lo­ca­tion for a new sta­dium.

The Red­skins’ lease at FedEx Field (the team owns the sta­dium, but they had to sign a 30-year lease for gov­ern­ment fund­ing for the in­fras­truc­ture) is en­ter­ing its fi­nal 10 years, and Prince Ge­orge’s County of­fi­cials and Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan have made it clear they will fight to keep the team

in the state — per­haps down near Na­tional Har­bor and the newly-opened MGM Grand casino. And District of­fi­cials are hop­ing to sell the team on re­turn­ing to their RFK site, where a new sta­dium would be built.

Evans said he is “very optimistic” the city can bring the Red­skins back.

“First there is the tra­di­tion,” Evans said. “The Wash­ing­ton Red­skins played at RFK, won at RFK, the fond mem­o­ries in the re­gion for that team in that sta­dium dur­ing that time still ex­ist, and un­like base­ball, when I was try­ing to sell base­ball and get­ting some hos and hums and yawns when I bring up the Red­skins in meet­ings peo­ple are very ex­cited about it.

“They want that foot­ball team back in the city and they want it at a place where it is ac­ces­si­ble. I use that word. The prob­lem is with the cur­rent site at FedEx Field is that you can’t get there, and when you get there, it takes a whole day and you can’t get out of there. We all know that Jack Kent Cooke built the sta­dium on the cheap, Dan Sny­der has tried to make it bet­ter. But how good can you make a bad sta­dium?

“In the NFL East­ern divi­sion, the Giants are play­ing in a brand new sta­dium, the Cow­boys are play­ing in a brand new sta­dium, the Ea­gles are play­ing in a brand new sta­dium, and we’re play­ing in kind of an Erec­tor Set. So they want to get out of that thing.”

RFK’s ad­van­tages

Evans pro­ceeded to cri­tique the city’s com­pe­ti­tion for the Red­skins sta­dium

“Vir­ginia, you look at, they are where the head­quar­ters is in Ash­burn,” he said. “That’s a hike. That is way out­side the city. There is no Metro there and as you know I am chair­man of the board of Metro and it’s go­ing to take a while for the Sil­ver Line to get out there. Even when it gets out there it’s not go­ing to re­ally be ac­ces­si­ble for that area. The road sys­tem just doesn’t ex­ist. So the same prob­lems you have at the FedEx site you will have in Ash­burn.

“Re­mem­ber some­thing called Dis­ney’s Amer­ica? Tell me how that worked out. Vir­gini­ans are pretty good at stop­ping things. They stopped Jack Kent Cooke at Po­tomac Yards and they stopped Dis­ney’s Amer­ica. I would think twice be­fore I would go to Vir­ginia and try a big project like this.

“If you’re go­ing to do that (move to Vir­ginia) move to Rich­mond, call your­self the Rich­mond Red­skins and we’ll go af­ter an­other team.

“In Mary­land, the lat­est I heard they are con­sid­er­ing build­ing it south of Na­tional Har­bor. There is no Metro there and as chair­man of Metro I can tell you that there is never go­ing to be a Metro there, that is so far off where the Green Line goes. If we ever get to Na­tional Har­bor I would be happy. And then to get the traf­fic you have to go get to the MGM Grand. It’s very dif­fi­cult to ac­cess ei­ther of those ar­eas.”

Then he gave the pitch for the RFK site.

“You tear down the sta­dium and build a new sta­dium right there. There’s the Metro right on site and the ac­cess roads to that site are tremen­dous. And frankly, there are 190 un­de­vel­oped acres where the RFK sits that is Park Ser­vice land that is leased to the District of Columbia. So not only could you build a sta­dium, but in this day and age you want to do what we did where the Na­tion­als are. You want to build a com­mu­nity around the sta­dium. So you could have the sta­dium, the prac­tice fields, the head­quar­ters, a Hall of Fame, ho­tels and restau­rants. You get 75,000 peo­ple go­ing to a foot­ball game you don’t want to come out, get in their cars and go home.

“It comes down to fi­nanc­ing, and I be­lieve that is some­thing the city can work out with the team, who takes care of the land, who pays for the sta­dium, how does this all work out. I be­lieve hav­ing done a num­ber of these deals now, with the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, the base­ball sta­dium, we have much more ex­pe­ri­ence do­ing this than Mary­land or Vir­ginia does, and I be­lieve we can get the deal done.”

Time to re­think Ver­i­zon, too

The Ver­i­zon Cen­ter will be com­ing up on 20 years in 2018, and there have been dis­cus­sions about a new arena for the Wizards and Cap­i­tals. It was part of the 2024 Olym­pic pro­posal, with the arena around the RFK site.

Evans prefers up­dat­ing the cur­rent Ver­i­zon Cen­ter.

“I’ve talked with (Wizards and Cap­i­tals owner, as well as Ver­i­zon Cen­ter owner) Ted Leon­sis about this a cou­ple of times,” Evans said. “The Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, the in­side is great, the court and ev­ery­thing but it is a build­ing that it 20 years old, and it’s ag­ing. It was built in an­other world in the District of Columbia. To­day you would not build like a mono­lithic build­ing. Look at the Sixth Street side. There is noth­ing there, it’s just a wall, fac­ing the ugly Metro build­ing which is across the street where our Metro head­quar­ters is, these Joseph Stal­in­is­tic build­ings that are just hor­ri­ble. You wouldn’t build that to­day. You would have life. You would have restau­rants in both of those ar­eas.

“In the next five years or so, we’re go­ing to have to ei­ther redo the ex­ist­ing Ver­i­zon Cen­ter and bring it into to­day’s world, or think about mov­ing the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter to an­other lo­ca­tion. I like the first. I be­lieve the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter is the cat­a­lyst for life down­town. If you were to move it to the RFK site, for in­stance you would re­ally take away that excitement that ex­ists down­town at times when it wouldn’t hap­pen other­wise. So what we could do is what they did at Madi­son Square Gar­den. They kept play­ing at Madi­son Square Gar­den, but they re­did the whole Gar­den and made it into what it is to­day, a real show­place. So we could do the same thing.

“He (Leon­sis) has raised the con­cern many times that he has a lot of debt on that build­ing and those teams and that re­ally ham­pers his abil­i­ties to get bet­ter play­ers. So we have to sit down and see if we could re­struc­ture the whole thing and pro­duce a brand new Ver­i­zon Cen­ter for to­day’s world on that site. We’re look­ing at tear­ing that Metro build­ing down. So you get rid of these ugly, life­less build­ings and start pro­duc­ing build­ings that bring life to the com­mu­nity and tax rev­enues. So from my point of view that is the way to go.”

Build­ing on the Nats’ model

Be­cause of the fi­nan­cial success of the base­ball sta­dium, bring­ing in an es­ti­mated triple the amount of rev­enues they ex­pected when Na­tion­als Park was ap­proved, Evans feels con­fi­dent the city can con­tinue reap­ing the re­wards of hav­ing sports fran­chises within the city. But that nearly didn’t hap­pen. Evans con­firmed that Vir­ginia was the pre­ferred choice of ma­jor league base­ball.

“What turned the tide was the fi­nanc­ing,” Evans said. “Ma­jor League Base­ball owned the team (the Mon­treal Ex­pos), and they wanted to get top dol­lar for it, and they could not get top dol­lar and re­quire who­ever bought it to build a sta­dium. So they said to us the only way you’re go­ing to get a team is if you build the sta­dium on your dime. We were will­ing to do it.

The gov­er­nor (Vir­ginia Gov. Mark Warner) re­fused to put the state’s full faith and credit be­hind the sta­dium, and it col­lapsed. To this day, I be­lieve if Bill (Collins, who led the North­ern Vir­ginia group) had got­ten that state fi­nanc­ing, they would have gone to North­ern Vir­ginia. But they didn’t and they made a de­ci­sion to come here when you look at success of the sta­dium and the success of the area around the sta­dium, it’s phe­nom­e­nal.”

The city’s success record for arena and sta­dium deals has been ex­cep­tional. Their white whale, though, re­mains the Red­skins.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans is be­hind the effort to bring the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins, who are look­ing for a new home, back to the District. He be­lieves the site of their for­mer home, RFK Sta­dium, would be an ideal lo­ca­tion. The Red­skins are the only Wash­ing­ton pro­fes­sional sports fran­chise not within the city lim­its.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans said the prob­lem with FedEx Field in Landover “is that you can’t get there, it takes a whole day and you can’t get out of there. We all know that (for­mer Red­skins owner) Jack Kent Cooke built the sta­dium on the cheap.”

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