D.C. residents give resounding thumbs-down to mayor’s NFL stadium plans

Residents of the area around RFK Stadium really do not like Mayor Muriel Bowser’s idea to use the land for a new NFL stadium:

More than 150 residents of Capitol Hill filled a church gymnasium Wednesday night to propose ideas for re-use of the Robert F. Kennedy stadium property.

Most of the ideas centered around sports: playing fields, a pool, a boathouse, skating rinks, walking trails, even a velodrome.

There was one idea they widely and intensely opposed: building a new stadium for the Redskins. And almost every one of the more than 20 people who stood up to oppose a new NFL stadium did so without saying the team’s name.

Meanwhile, two former National Park Service workers who live near the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital site really do not like Mayor Bowser’s idea to use it for a new Wizards practice facility:

“I don’t think we need it over here,” said Alphonzo Walker, an unemployed 53-year-old who lives in Ward 8.

“I don’t know about this area,” said Eric Clark, also unemployed and in his 50s, though a few years older than Mr. Walker. “What’s going to happen to the homeless who live there?”

Okay, sure, small sample size. Still, the general principle is valid: If you have a plot of available land, and a plan to dedicate a few tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in city money towards it, what’s the best way to generate jobs and other benefits for the surrounding neighborhood, if that’s your goal? Think carefully before you answer.

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24 comments on “D.C. residents give resounding thumbs-down to mayor’s NFL stadium plans

  1. Ha ha ha. “Residents give resounding thumbs-down” is usually the headline that comes just before “Spending on new stadium approved.”

    The time between headlines may vary, but not the content.

  2. Shocking that neighborhood activists would make a list that basically says, “give us free shit”.

  3. Yes, Ben, a discussion about what “free shit” should replace RFK included “neighborhood activists” presenting their ideas.

    Shocking, indeed.

  4. It is no more shocking that area residents would demand taxpayer funded improvements than that billionaire welfare recipients would do the same.

    At least the area residents live and pay taxes in the area, unlike the billionaire sports owners typically do.

  5. The funny part is that it doesn’t really matter how much these folks complain, because of how the voting districts work in DC, RFK site, DC General, and the associated Reservation 13 are in District 7 which is mostly on the south-side of the Anacostia river while those who live next to it and are complaining in the meeting here are in District 6 which is on the north-side of the Anacostia River (with the stadium). So most of the vocal members at this don’t even live in the same district as RFK. There is a small stub of D7 folks who live north of the stadium in a block or two of row houses on the north-side of the river, but neighborhood surrounding the stadium is largely in D6.

    That means for the project to proceed with planning with only D7 council member and the ANC 7D to agree, both of where most of their voters don’t live anywhere near the stadium and likely don’t care about the stadium other than the city spending money (and likely don’t care enough to attend this meeting). The bigger spending will need to be approved by the whole council, but the setup allows for D6 to vote against it while the other districts to approve it because of you know jobs.

  6. The smartest thing the city and Interior Department could do with the RFK land is figure out a way to raze the stadium and use the land for not just the parks/recreation purposes but to include some mixed use residential buildings with first floor retail suitable for grocery stores, etc.

    RFK is a symbol of a failed urban renewal policy of 50 years ago. The land today is far more valuable and useful to waste a spot with excellent transit connections on something as tax-useless as a football stadium. Particularly when you add in equally unproductive uses of land like surface parking lots for football games.

    “Amenities” (otherwise known as “free sh*t”) like parks, bike paths, and boathouses increase the value of property, which (generally) help cities and residents financially, besides the recreation value. Football stadiums have huge taxation costs to cities and do little to improve neighborhoods.

  7. Interesting jmauro, thanks. I take it that it’s just a ‘boundary’ issue (IE: were the boundary of the district is drawn) and not a matter of the area residents being specifically excluded from having a say on what goes on in “their” district?

    Seems to me I read somewhere years ago that DC also has it’s budget controlled (? to what degree I don’t know) by congress.

    Is that accurate? If so, is it something of a formality (IE: the city/district sets it’s own budget but it is approved by C or something) or are they somehow directly involved in the process?

  8. John Bladen–if memory serves, an interesting part of the Nats Park deal was that the city (partially) paid for it by increasing the fees for electricity and other city services from the city to the Federal Government. That portion made it through what oversight remains.

  9. @John Bladen – The boundary was drawn such that the RFK site sits in a different council ward than the residents who surround it. So those who live near it have a direct say over their district, but not the ward where RFK sits. The section of Hill East that moved over to Ward 7 was done 13 years ago and was expanded in the last redistricting since Ward 6 grew at the same rate as the rest of the city and ward 7 did not. It was sort of controversial at the time since it weakedn the neighborhood representation by splitting votes between districts (http://thehillishome.com/2011/05/guest-post-why-hill-east-should-remain-united-in-ward-6/), but it wasn’t undone in the last redistricting.

    The District government is legally a department of the US Congress per the US Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) similar to the Congressional Budget Office and as such must have it’s budget approved every year by Congress before they can spend a dime. Laws passed by the city council can be overridden by Congress as well since the District, not exceeding 10 miles square, is the exclusive domain of Congress (not even the Executive, just Congress). John Oliver did a good review on the topic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z4j2CrJRn4 .

    The council sets a budget (and raises it’s own taxes to pay for it), but if it’s not approved by Congress they legally cannot spend any of it. If the Congress is Democratic, they usually just keep hands off, but if the Republicans control Congress they’ve been getting in the weeds and mucking with things (see the video for example).

  10. The Washington DC area NFL stadium is only 18 years old? Are you kidding me? Ben Miller, I don’t think Parks are “free stuff.” That is actually the kind of thing people pay taxes for.

    One other, NFL stadiums, with their low and mostly weekend usage, should be out in the sticks. Baseball stadiums and hockey/basketball/concert areanas are different.

  11. Meanwhile at FedEx Field, out in Suburbistan… the NFL team with the most racist nickname of all time draws more fans from visiting teams than locals, with the ownership tarping off whole sections of seats. The owner is universally reviled by all; the team is in a state of chronic, compounded mismanagement. It seems that most of the fans who remain are in Virginia anyway. If there is a pro sports franchise less deserving of public funding in any way, I defy anyone to name it. The DC-based NFL team is the picture of all that is rotten in professional sports in the US. I’d underestimated the degree of Muriel Bowser’s idiocy for taking this policy of luring them back to town, and using their racist name in public discourse. Use the RFK site for mixed development, including affordable housing and greenspace, which will yield more value back to the taxpayer than this disaster will. Let the team move deep into the NoVA suburbs and see if anyone notices.

  12. There is plenty of land to have both an NFL stadium and parkland. The problem is that people are accustomed to the tail gating culture. If a new stadium were to be built on the RFK site my hope would be that they take the Nationals Park approach where they build the stadium with minimal surface parking. The sea of concrete is not conducive to smart growth and it serves no public good. I’d like to see a stadium with parkland adjacent similar to the ball fields next to Yankee stadium.

    However, as a Maryland resident I think its absolutely ridiculous that they would want to leave Fedex field. Hogan has already said he wants to keep the team in MD, but who knows…

  13. Man, you people have a lot of ways to justify people asking for free shit.

    If the site weren’t already zoned for a stadium then I could see the neighborhood activists’ point. But this just appears to be step one in extorting some concessions from the Redskins in exchange for getting their stadium site back.

  14. The site is also owned by the National Park Service, so it’s not like rezoning is the only thing standing in the way of Snyder building a stadium there.

  15. DGA:

    Good points…. as I recall, the team’s fans were more than happy to turn up at the new stadium in numbers when Jack Kent Cooke still owned them (even when he insisted on announcers calling the stadium’s location by a name he personally invented by combining the names of his children). After a few years of Snyder ownership and horrendous mismanagement, suddenly no-one wants to go.

    I doubt that’s a coincidence.

  16. @Ben,

    Shocking that neighborhood activists would make a list that basically says, “give us free shit”.

    Sounds like you have real contempt for what’s known as the greater good or the commons.

    Here’s a short list of the “free shit” (not counting gazillions in cash) the Milwaukee Bucks owners demanded and got: 30 acres of free public land from county and state (21 acres to use purely for speculation over a decade or more), another free acre from the city, and a parking ramp taxpayers paid $30M to build. Bucks owners (AKA “Vulture Capitalists”) also demanded–and will most likely be given–a block-long downtown street to be vacated. Tough-negotiating Mayor Tom Barrett reportedly responded “Would you like fries with that?”

    Ben, this also may be shocking to you. Quality public spaces are reliable catalysts for major economic impact. Danish researcher Jan Gehl reports that every city worldwide that has invested in revitalizing public spaces has experienced a renaissance. The same can not remotely be made about sports venues…

  17. Jeez this comments section is filled with hostility. Can’t we all just get along and give the NFL what it wants?

  18. Well said Piggy.

    Let’s not forget who and what our system of taxation was designed for (and, for the most part, by).

  19. Oh, Ben, you amuse us with your ahistorical patter. RFK Stadium was never theirs to begin with, having been a multi-use site for the totality of its existence, and it continues to be so today, albeit significantly reduced due to the expansion of single use stadiums. The reality is that the RFK Stadium not only was never owned by Synder and Co. but has always been owned by the National Park Service. While there is a long-term lease on the place till 2038, the reality is that NPS can dictate whatever it wants on the land, which could be used for just about anything more useful than a stadium. Hell, it could go to totally private development for commercial and residential properties and people would be less pissed than giving it to Synder.

  20. Don’t think there is currently any love lost between Snyder and the NPS.


  21. @Sean S – While NPS owns the land, the city of DC owns the stadium. The lease says it needs to be removed before the land reverts back to NPS control in 2038.

    Post 2038 the NPS actually cannot do anything it wants with the land. Unless directed by Congress it can only establish a park or monument on the site per its mission.

  22. MN,

    Yes, Milwaukee is taking it up the tailpipe from the Bucks. Agreed. But, seriously, how dumb is it to assert that all public spaces are economic catalysts? Let’s just make the whole country a National Park! We’re rich!


    I am totally unfamiliar with the RFK site. But you are throwing crap against the wall and hoping something sticks. A new Redskins stadium would be just as “multi-use” as RFK, only with a FAR better chance of stimulating economic growth. And, yes, the land has never been owned by the Skins, but so what? It’s already zoned for a football stadium and from what I’ve been told it already has a great infrastructure to support the Skins’ return.

  23. “A new Redskins stadium would be just as “multi-use” as RFK, only with a FAR better chance of stimulating economic growth.”

    One big difference: RFK is already paid for. A new stadium would also need to stimulate enough added economic growth to make up for however much in subsidies Dan Snyder requests. And given the number of football stadiums that have shown any signs of stimulating economic growth is zero, good luck with that.

  24. Ben,

    The land is in a transitioning neighborhood not far from Capitol Hill, with outstanding transit connections to job centers around the Congress and even northern Virginia.

    Having a stadium there in this environment is nearly worthless from any kind of economic perspective. It takes up an enormous amount of space, has poor parking facilities, and would likely be just as lightly used as the Redskins used it before and DC United use it now–neither of which have contributed any “economic development.” It also is completely tax free (which would not change while it is under the control of NPS).

    Especially in up and coming neighborhoods, transit connections and park space are demonstrated to raise property values and attract residents–both of which DC need more than a vanity purchase like a football stadium. This isn’t anywhere as random as you suggest.

    Just the expectation of additional subway service have contributed significantly to the rebuilding of neighborhoods near Boston (a similarly hot real estate market). Coincidentally enough, the same neighborhood recently was targeted by the MLS Revolution as a stadium that would “contribute to economic development” that is occurring with the right kinds of public spending–benefiting people who actually like to go to work rather than watch NFL fans get silly on beer.

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