The land currently occupied by RFK Stadium is going to undergo significant changes in the coming years. With the stadium’s lone remaining tenant (DC United) set to move into a brand new soccer stadium by 2019, attention is shifting towards redevelopment efforts on the massive waterfront property, which in total is roughly half the size of the National Mall. I asked GGWash's contributors what should happen with that space.
Events DC, the DC government authority in charge of operating the RFK Stadium sit, initially unveiled potential redevelopment plans to the public at a meeting last April. In early January, the group held another meeting to offer further details and specifics on what may become of the site.
An anchor to replace the 56-year-old RFK Stadium, such as a new stadium or arena, or mixed-use development, may or may not be in the cards, and it will take years to determine the outcome on those ideas. In the shorter term, focus lies on redeveloping the land around the stadium which currently consists primarily of surface parking lots.
Plans for redeveloping this portion of the site largely call for playing fields, athletic facilities, and cultural elements including a food market and a memorial to the late Robert F. Kennedy.
Ultimately, development decisions lay in the hands of the federal government, as the National Park Service will get final say in what is done with the land. Given that the land's lease says it should be used for sports and recreational use, there won’t be as many hurdles to clear if playing fields and athletic facilities go in. However, if anything with housing and retail is to become a reality in the future, there would need to be changes negotiated in the current lease agreement with
The RFK redevelopment initiative has high public visibility and many opportunities for input, and is setting up to be a heavily discussed issue going forward. Our contributors recently weighed in to offer their thoughts on the latest plans to redevelop the land surrounding RFK Stadium.
Travis Maiers says that building playing fields will serve an immediate benefit to the surrounding community:
“[Building playing fields] is something that can be done to better the area for residents ASAP without running afoul of the various land use and regulations and covenants tied to it. Turning parking lots into fields is a no brainer and win-win for everyone right now.”
Canaan Merchant agrees:
“Sports fields are definitely a better use than parking lots. Considering that's achievable under current law (if I understand correctly), then maybe that's a good outcome compared to the effort of trying to get a congressional act through [to allow for more robust mixed-use development].”
David Cranor touches on an important consideration: a sizeable portion of the land is below sea level, and thus in the floodplain of the Anacostia River. Any new housing on this land would necessitate raising it to sea level. Building playing fields, on the other hand, wouldn’t require that.
“The city and neighborhood still need more sports fields as I understand it. Nearer the Metro Station - like the parking lots northwest of the stadium would be great places to add housing, but down in the flood plain, building would become expensive. Sports fields become nice buffers to flooding rivers. I think this plan moves in the right direction.”
But there is a downside to the short-term plans of building playing fields and recreational facilities: the cost. Mike Grinnell explains:
“The biggest thing that jumps out is the dollar figure of nearly half a billion dollars for what is called a short term plan. To put that number in perspective, the city of Milwaukee just built a new arena for $486 million with another $38 million for site improvements. Though I am not advocating for the arena here, I just wanted to give an idea of the cost.”
Speaking of a new arena, any large-scale redevelopment effort that leaves the door open for said arena presents a natural point of contention. David Cranor shares his thoughts:
“I don't think an arena is a great idea, and I reject the narrative that [the Verizon Center] led to the redevelopment of Gallery Place/Chinatown. But even if it did, an arena here would not have the same effect and would be…surrounded by parking.”
At the end of the day, a development of this size and potential is an opportunity to make better use of the land. But getting to that point will likely entail a voyage into the murky waters of political process.
Travis Maiers says:
“The real key in the future is going to be how ambitious DC wants to get with trying to build some kind of housing and/or retail and/or commercial property on the site (preferably not a stadium of course). I got the sense that whole process is up in the air as everyone gets a sense of the complexities and if there is political will. I also think that, if folks are serious about making some portion of land more than just fields and sports facilities, they're also going to need to get someone other than Events DC to manage and oversee the space.”
According to David Whitehead, that strong political will may be there.
“A lot of ANC commissioners I have been talking to in the area say residents really want more housing on at least part of the space. There is some sort of covenant on the land (since it is NPS) that doesn't allow that, but many are convinced there would be a way around that if there was sufficient political will.”