DC to raze RFK Stadium by 2021 ... but not necessarily so the Redskins can build a new one
By ROBERT MCCARTNEY | The Washington Post | Published: September 5, 2019
The District of Columbia plans to tear down the dilapidated RFK Stadium by 2021, a move officials say is driven by a need to save money and not to advance any plans for the Washington Redskins to build a new football stadium there.
The decision announced Thursday will end the life of the 58-year-old stadium best known for hosting the Redskins during the team's glory years in the 1980s and early 1990s when it won three Super Bowls.
RFK, located on the Anacostia River two miles east of the U.S. Capitol, also was home for a time to both the Nationals and Senators baseball teams, as well as the D.C. United soccer team. It also hosted concerts, including performances by the Beatles, Madonna and Foo Fighters.
Events DC, the District agency that manages the stadium, is seeking bids by Oct. 25 from contractors to demolish the facility. Since D.C. United left in 2017, RFK has attracted few events and is costing the city $2 million a year for maintenance, landscaping, pest control, security and other services. Utility bills add another $1.5 million a year.
"We don't want to throw money after a resource that's exceeded its useful life," Events DC President Gregory O'Dell said.
The demolition also will make it easier for the District to move ahead with plans over the next five to seven years to build a $500 million recreational and event space for residents and tourists, O'Dell said.
He and other officials pushed back against speculation that the city was bulldozing RFK to pave a path for the Redskins to replace it with a new stadium. John Falcicchio, chief of staff to Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said the District has had "no substantive conversations" with the team about a new stadium in 13 months.
Both Bowser and team owner Daniel Snyder have expressed hope that the team might return to the District, which it left in 1996 to play at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
Snyder would like to recreate the electric atmosphere at RFK, where 47,000 fans famously stomped feet so hard that the stadium shivered. Bowser would like the team to anchor a complex with retail, restaurants and affordable housing.
But the District would first need to get control of the land, which it leases from the federal government. At present, the lease allows the site to be used only for sports and recreation.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the city's nonvoting member of Congress, has filed a bill to sell the entire 190-acre RFK Stadium site to the District, but that legislation has not progressed.
A return by the Redskins would be controversial; some members of Congress and the D.C. Council object to the team's name, while others are concerned by the prospect that tax dollars could help fund the project.
The team could also seek to build a new stadium in northern Virginia or the Maryland suburbs, but those prospects appear to have dimmed. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is cool to the idea, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in February he was dropping an effort to persuade the team to build its next stadium adjacent to MGM National Harbor in Prince George's County.
O'Dell said a new professional football stadium was one of three possible long term uses - along with an indoor sports arena or green space - but the city is not currently looking at those alternatives.
"We are not working on any of those long-term options right now, nor have we talked to the Redskins about that or any of this demolition effort," O'Dell said.
Instead, the city is moving ahead with short-term plans for the site, which is valuable both for its waterfront location, nearby Metro station and proximity to downtown.
Events DC opened three multipurpose turf fields in the summer to host recreational soccer leagues, kickball teams and school groups, among other events. The next steps are to build an indoor sports complex, a market for dining, pedestrian bridges across the Anacostia, and a memorial to Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of president John F. Kennedy.
Originally named District of Columbia stadium, the facility was renamed in 1969 following Robert Kennedy's assassination.
Speculation about the District reaching a stadium deal with the Redskins surged in August 2018 when Bowser told the team's annual Welcome Home luncheon, "We think all of our professional sports teams should be in our city limits."
But Falcicchio said the city and team have had no significant talks since then.
"Since that point, there hasn't been anything of substance," said Falcicchio. "There's no substantive conversations, and there are no negotiations underway."
Demolishing the stadium will show Congress that the District is serious about reimagining the RFK site, Falcicchio said.
"There's an opportunity there for mixed-used development, with a large portion being housing," Falcicchio said. "Especially if it were workforce housing and affordable housing, that would be a great way to honor the legacy of Robert Kennedy."
Jimmy Lynn, an adjunct professor of sports marketing at Georgetown University, said demolishing the stadium now would make it easier eventually for the Redskins to build a new one there, but he doubted an agreement was in place.
"I can't imagine they have a deal this far out," Lynn said, noting that the team's lease for FedEx Field doesn't expire until 2026.
O'Dell said razing RFK could take up to a year after a contractor is selected.
The agency has not yet decided whether it will auction off seats or other parts of the stadium to nostalgic fans.
"At an appropriate time, we're going to celebrate this building and honor its legacy," O'Dell said.