Last weekend, the Washington Post reported that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Councilmember Jack Evans were working with Congressional Republicans, the Trump administration, and Washington football team owner (and real-life movie villain) Dan Snyder to insert a rider amendment to a federal spending bill that would help pave the way for the city to build a new stadium for the team at the current RFK site.
On Tuesday, the specific language of that rider was revealed:
Here's the proposed language for the federal spending bill to give D.C. a 99-year lease extension over the RFK campus and add language that would allow commercial development on the site: pic.twitter.com/2PZskUGQhr— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 11, 2018
Based strictly on the text, the amendment is actually a positive development. Whereas current law restricts use of the site to recreation only (including a stadium), this update would expand the options to include high-density, mixed-use development. That change would allow for a broader range of plans that could include much-needed housing and retail in the area.
The challenge, though, is that the change also makes the site more attractive to Snyder, and suggests Bowser and Evans are planning to offer it to him in some form of sweetheart deal. Such a decision, however, would very likely be a costly one for the city.
Professional sports owners have grown very accustomed to receiving large public subsidies for their stadiums in recent years, even though those subsidies almost universally cost far more than the resultant economic benefit. (That’s particularly true for football stadiums, which host only eight home regular-season games per year.)
DC faces a particular danger of overspending, as it appears Snyder is busy simultaneously negotiating with Maryland officials, and potentially leaders in Virginia as well, to spark a regional bidding war.
While public subsidies are some of the biggest concerns, they’re not the only problem. Councilmember David Grosso, who has come out against a stadium deal, highlighted that even if the stadium were 100% privately financed, the city would still need to spend “upwards of $200 million just in infrastructure improvements” to accommodate it.
All of that is still before accounting for the massive opportunity cost at the site. Between the stadium itself and the tens of thousands of parking spots the team will inevitably insist on, that’s a massive amount of square footage that won’t be used for additional housing, retail, or green space. As another Councilmember critical of the plan, Ward 6’s Charles Allen, summarized, “There’s no version [of a stadium] that’s not a giant suck on available space.”
Allen has taken the additional step of organizing residents against a stadium through a new website hailnorfk.com—more than 2,000 people already have already signed his petition. Grosso and Allen’s strong responses are a great sign, but we’re going to need a majority of the Council to help stop Evans and Bowser from cutting a terrible deal.
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