Two potential master plans for the RFK Stadium site, whose overhaul is underway, would quickly build new playgrounds and community green space, with a new professional sports venue potentially coming down the road. On Monday night, the public got a glimpse at each plan and their different details, and had a chance to give feedback.
While most residents are familiar with RFK Stadium, the size of the entire RFK Stadium-Armory Complex, all of which the master plan will encompass, is worth emphasizing: it’s roughly as long as New York’s High Line (1.45 miles) and, at its widest point, is as wide as Central Park (half a mile).
But as Jason Long, a partner at OMA New York, the firm that’s advising on the master plan, pointed out, nearly 41% of the RFK site is covered with surface parking lots, serving as a de facto “blockade between the city and riverfront.”
Along with all that parking, the site is currently dominated by a half century old multi-use stadium. Its age, along with its circular shape that made for odd field dimensions and awkward spectator sightlines, has rendered it functionally obsolete. Currently, RFK is only used a handful of times a year for DC United games, and once the team moves into it’s new soccer arena on Buzzard Point, RFK will have no permanent tenants.
At a meeting on Monday night, Events DC, the District government’s sports authority in charge of operating the site, hosted a meeting to unveil and discuss potential plans for how to use the land. Over 400 people turned out to the Convention Center to join in.
Before a new stadium, low-hanging fruit
The grand vision for RFK is a new waterfront area that has space for cultural activities, recreation, sports, and park land. More specifically, the plans include space for a market, skate park, dog park, community gardens, urban farm, water park, multipurpose fields.
Max Brown, the co-chair of Events DC’s Development Committee, emphasized that the organization is looking to complete these smaller projects within the next five years (and as early as the next two), with longer-term “anchor projects” to follow.
During his presentation, Long said there are three options for “anchor” facilities: a 20,000 seat indoor arena, an NFL stadium, and a “no anchor” option that would allow for additional cultural or recreational facilities.
How to actually lay out the new facilities is a more detailed question. One reason why is that DC leases the land from the federal government, which currently only allows it to be used for a stadium, recreation, and parking. Officials presented two potential plans for using the land, both contingent on new lease terms.
One plan would redesign the surrounding street grid
Option 1 is known as the “North-South Axis.” In this plan, the major recreation and sports buildings would be built in a north-south line along a “plinth” overlooking the Anacostia River.
A covered pedestrian promenade and retail strip would wrap along the eastern front of the buildings, with new green space and paths sloping down to the waterfront. To the west, cultural components like a bandshell and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial would surround a new “flex zone” open area.
Approximately 6,800 parking spaces would be housed underneath the sports buildings, using the area’s natural topography to help hide the parking levels.
Perhaps most strikingly, the entire network of streets surrounding the complex would be completely redesigned. The current circular connections to the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge would be demolished and replaced with a singular connection.
An expanded street grid more in line with the original L’Enfant plan for the city would also go in.
Another would leave it as it is, and new buildings would be more spread out
Option 2, called the “Stitch,” is a bit more focused on keeping the neighborhood’s existing layout intact.
The Independence Avenue and C Street NE bridge connections would remain, but new pedestrian walkways and surface streets would be added to the surrounding area as needed.
Rather than a singular line of buildings like in the N/S Axis plan, new amenities would be spread throughout the area, often at a smaller scale; this would be part of the effort to make the project fit in with the neighborhood.
Because this plan would be less concentrated around a single set of buildings, parking would be dispersed around the area, much of it going in above-ground garages that would have sidewalk facing retail. A handful of surface parking lots would go in as well.
Both options feature the same plan to revitalize and activate the Anacostia River’s Kingman and Heritage Islands. New pedestrian bridges would connect these islands to the new waterfront park, as well as provide more connections across the river
to Ward 7 .
Features like a new amphitheater, environmental center, and a picnic area would attempt to turn a somewhat neglected park area into a more welcoming space.
Resident concerns range from a lack of housing to traffic and pollution
At the meeting, groups between 15 and 20 people gave Events DC feedback. These were some of the big points:
- A number of groups lamented that neither option looked at more varied land uses, such as housing, hotels, or other mixed use. The most that Events DC officials would say was that the current lease would need to be restructured before any housing or other uses could be incorporated.
RFK question people asking: why not housing? Not clear lease from park service would allow housing. Also Hill East getting housing nearby— Jonathan O'Connell (@OConnellPostbiz) April 4, 2016
- Some groups felt the green space areas could use more playing fields, playgrounds, or educational areas. A number of attendees were particularly perplexed by the “urban beach,” an area of sand meant to mimic a beach along the Anacostia. Many felt it would be unusable during the winter and an unattractive, mosquito-ridden area during the summer. People also wondered whether the new amenities would be public or private and whether they’d require dues or user fees.
- Others voiced concerns about potential traffic changes and dangers for pedestrians, particularly with the first plan’s street grid. Others said the plan needed to incorporate more new transit options, for example by renovating the Stadium-Armory Metro station or extending the DC Streetcar closer to the site.
There were also calls to do more than just build two pedestrian bridges to connect the site to
Ward 7communities east of the Anacostia.
- Attendees also voiced environmental concerns, ranging from those about water quality and habitats for native species to noise and light pollution. Additionally, while both plans factor in the floodplain and tidal nature of the Anacostia, participants still had reservations about flooding concerns.
- There was opposition to building an NFL stadium on the site, but it was difficult to tell how widespread it might be.
Last night’s discussion did not include any budget specifics. Officials stressed that the presentation was a “vision exercise” meant to convey an overall concept of what the site could be.
Going forward, Events DC will do a budgetary analysis, along with environmental studies and more detailed renderings and plans. The agency hopes to have preliminary results on those in about three months, with another public meeting to follow to discuss those findings.
You can find additional pictures and details about the potential plans for RFK here.
Correction: The original version of this post noted two possible pedestrian bridges to connect the RFK site to Ward 7. RFK is already in Ward 7, but unlike the vast majority of the ward, it’s on the western side of the Anacostia River. The bridges would connect to the eastern side.