New sta­dium at RFK site?

Red­skins, D.C., GOP of­fi­cials work to se­cure site be­fore next Congress


Wash­ing­ton Red­skins owner Daniel Sny­der is work­ing with lo­cal and fed­eral of­fi­cials to in­sert a sta­dium pro­vi­sion into a spend­ing bill that could be com­pleted this month.

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins owner Daniel Sny­der is get­ting help from Dis­trict of­fi­cials, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as he tries to clear a ma­jor road­block to build­ing a new, 60,000-seat sta­dium on the site of RFK Sta­dium.

Nearly three years af­ter the Red­skins un­veiled fu­tur­is­tic de­signs for their next foot­ball sta­dium, the team has been work­ing in concert with lo­cal and fed­eral of­fi­cials to in­sert a sta­dium pro­vi­sion into the mas­sive spend­ing bill that the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress is rush­ing to com­plete this month, ac­cord­ing to four peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the ef­fort but not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss it pub­licly.

The pro­vi­sion could pave the way for the NFL sta­dium and other com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment on the 190-acre site that was the set­ting of the team’s great­est tri­umphs. By tuck­ing it into a com­plex spend­ing bill, the team and lo­cal of­fi­cials could side­step some pub­lic de­bate over whether other uses for the cov­eted par­cel of land would ben­e­fit a broader swath of D.C. res­i­dents.

The pro­vi­sion’s pas­sage would not guar­an­tee the sta­dium would be built at the RFK site, and the Dis­trict gov­ern­ment would re­tain control of the prop­erty. But it could give fresh mo­men­tum to the D.C. plan be­fore of­fi­cials in Mary­land or Vir­ginia have an op­por­tu­nity to make a mean­ing­ful play for the pro­ject.

The ef­fort comes as Sny­der and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials fear that the com­ing change in House control from Repub­li­cans to Democrats could com­pli­cate fu­ture at­tempts to se­cure the RFK site, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple lo­cal and fed­eral of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions.

It also comes in the wake of the team’s widely panned de­ci­sion to sign line­backer Reuben Foster days af­ter his sec­ond ar­rest in an al­leged do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ci­dent. The Red­skins were the only NFL team to pur­sue the trou­bled player af­ter he was dropped by San Fran­cisco and did so three months af­ter sign­ing run­ning back Adrian Peter­son, who had served an NFL sus­pen­sion in 2014 in con­nec­tion with child-abuse charges in dis­ci­plin­ing his son.

While con­tro­versy over the team’s name has sub­sided, it re­mains ve­he­mently op­posed as racially of­fen­sive by some Na­tive Amer­i­can groups. In 2014, 50 U.S. sen­a­tors sent a let­ter to NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell urg­ing him to change the name.

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials, the sta­dium ef­fort has the back­ing of In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke and some con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, which could ease the process of get­ting the pro­vi­sion in­cluded in the spend­ing bill. For­mer White House leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor Marc Short, a Vir­ginia na­tive and Red­skins fan, is among those who have pro­moted the plan, one of­fi­cial said. He de­clined to com­ment Fri­day.

Heather Swift, a se­nior In­te­rior Depart­ment of­fi­cial, said the depart­ment would not com­ment on leg­is­la­tion. Red­skins Pres­i­dent Bruce Allen did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

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.

The fate of the bill re­mains in flux. Congress on Thurs­day passed a two-week mea­sure ex­tend­ing the dead­line to Dec. 21. But par­ti­san divi­sion re­mains over fund­ing for Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­posed U.S.-Mex­ico border wall, which threat­ens to de­rail any agree­ment and spark a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Mary­land of­fi­cials have not given up on ef­forts to keep the Red­skins sta­dium in their ju­ris­dic­tion. The of­fice of Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) ac­knowl­edged Fri­day the sign­ing of a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the In­te­rior Depart­ment in Septem­ber 2017 to give the state control over the 300-acre tract of fed­eral land in Oxon Cove, ad­ja­cent to MGM Na­tional Har­bor in Prince Ge­orge’s County. Ho­gan’s vi­sion is to of­fer that site for a sta­dium.

In­ter­est by Vir­ginia of­fi­cials in land­ing the next sta­dium is less fever­ish un­der Gov. Ralph Northam (D) than pre­de­ces­sor Terry McAuliffe (D), who vig­or­ously courted Sny­der. Northam se­cured a far big­ger prize in Novem­ber, when Ama­zon an­nounced it would build one of its two new head­quar­ters in Crys­tal City, cre­at­ing as many as 25,000 new jobs.

Among the lo­cal of­fi­cials play­ing a key role are D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Bev­erly Perry, a top aide to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). D.C. House Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton (D), who has spo­ken out against the team’s name but also tends to de­fer to the wishes of lo­cal of­fi­cials, is also en­gaged in the process.

Said Nor­ton in a state­ment: “I am con­tin­u­ing to work on mul­ti­ple leg­isla­tive op­tions for the re­de­vel­op­ment of the RFK site.” Evans de­clined to com­ment, as did Bowser’s chief of staff, John Fal­ci­c­chio.

Get­ting the land deal done be­fore this Congress ad­journs is crit­i­cal to Sny­der, who has taken pains to cul­ti­vate Repub­li­cans in power and do­nated $1 mil­lion to Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion fund.

Tim­ing is sig­nif­i­cant to the city, too. When Bowser raised the prospect of ex­tend­ing the lease dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, with an eye to­ward a new Red­skins sta­dium, the In­te­rior Depart­ment de­clined, with Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell say­ing she was un­likely to re­work the agree­ment to ac­com­mo­date an or­ga­ni­za­tion with a name she felt was a “relic of the past” and ought to be changed. Lead­ers of the in­com­ing Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House could raise sim­i­lar con­cerns.

City of­fi­cials have long had their eyes on re­de­vel­op­ing the sta­dium site, as well as an ad­ja­cent 67-acre tract of for­mer fed­eral land to the south. Bowser asked Trump in a March 2017 let­ter for “ei­ther a full trans­fer of ju­ris­dic­tion or an ex­ten­sion of the term of the lease for an ad­di­tional 100 years with a re­moval of re­stric­tion lim­it­ing the use of the prop­erty.” The let­ter was also sent to Zinke.

“We be­lieve the site can be trans­formed to cre­ate and pre­serve green space, add much needed hous­ing and re­tail, in­clude a sports and/or en­ter­tain­ment pur­pose and above all gen­er­ate jobs for our res­i­dents and the re­gion,” she wrote.

But in­side the Dis­trict, lo­cat­ing a sta­dium on the RFK site re­mains deeply con­tro­ver­sial, with res­i­dents in ad­ja­cent neigh­bor­hoods and other ac­tivists call­ing for the de­vel­op­ment to fo­cus in­stead on cre­at­ing ac­ces­si­ble green space and eas­ing a deep­en­ing hous­ing crunch.

D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who rep­re­sents the neigh­bor­hoods west of the sta­dium site, said it would be an “in­cred­i­bly wrong de­ci­sion” to build a new sta­dium and feared that res­i­dents could lose lever­age in shap­ing the fu­ture of the site.

“All we’re go­ing to get is what we’ve got al­ready, which is a place that is un­used on the edge of a neigh­bor­hood where we have the op­por­tu­nity to re­ally ex­tend our city and ex­tend our neigh­bor­hood down to the river,” he said.

The Red­skins’ lease to play at Lan­dover’s FedEx Field ex­pires in 2027. For Sny­der, the re­main­ing years at the sta­dium that for­mer team owner Jack Kent Cooke built largely with his own money in 1997 are a mount­ing source of frus­tra­tion.

Sny­der in­creas­ingly sees FedEx Field as a li­a­bil­ity — a drain on his bot­tom line, as well as a home­field that pro­vides lit­tle ad­van­tage and is shabby com­pared to the newer, shinier venues of his NFC East ri­val Jerry Jones, whose Dal­las Cow­boys opened high-tech AT&T Sta­dium in 2009, and his coun­ter­parts in At­lanta, Min­neapo­lis, San Fran­cisco and New York.

The city, not Sny­der, would re­tain control of the de­vel­op­ment rights un­der the kind of lease ex­ten­sion be­ing dis­cussed. But Sny­der could ne­go­ti­ate with city of­fi­cials to se­cure at least a por­tion of those rights as part of any sta­dium plan.

From Bowser’s per­spec­tive, a new Red­skins sta­dium at RFK would be the crown­ing achieve­ment of her on­go­ing ini­tia­tive, in part­ner­ship with Events DC, to po­si­tion Wash­ing­ton as “a sports cap­i­tal.”

Na­tion­als Park, which opened in 2008 dur­ing Mayor An­thony Wil­liams’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, serves as a model given the de­vel­op­ment that has since boomed in the Navy Yard area. Un­der Bowser’s watch, D.C. United opened its $400 mil­lion-500 mil­lion, 20,000-seat Audi Field at Buz­zard Point in June. A city-fi­nanced sports and en­ter­tain­ment venue opened this year in Ward 8, host­ing the Wash­ing­ton Wizards’ train­ing cen­ter and the home courts of the WNBA’s Mys­tics and a new NBA G League af­fil­i­ate.


Red­skins owner Dan Sny­der, sec­ond from left, presents FedEx Field’s ren­o­va­tion in 2010. The team’s lease there ex­pires in 2027.

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