It should come as no surprise that the District’s mayor and two powerful legislators snuck down to Florida as part of a grand scheme to somehow convince the Washington Redskins to return to their ancestral home and namesake.
Bringing the Redskins back to the city is the kind of grand gesture that politicians live to make — the sort of accomplishment that caps careers, creates legacies and leads obituaries.
But while the current dream — to build a new team headquarters and training facility near RFK Stadium in anticipation of building a new stadium there when the FedEx Field lease ends in 2027 — might be good for the politicians, but it might not be the best thing for the city, at least not where it is currently being contemplated.
Sources with knowledge say the current thinking is that a portion of the Reservation 13 site (aka Hill East) to the south of RFK would host the facility — perhaps to be accompanied by a Hall of Fame and museum, a hotel and other amenities. The facility Vincent Gray, Jack Evans and Michael Brown inspected this weekend was One Buccaneer Place, the latest and greatest headquarters in the NFL. The five-year-old home of the Tampa Bay Bucs include three practice fields, a 10,000-square-feet weight room, a 7,000-square-feet locker room, a hydrotherapy studio, a “theater-style auditorium” and more. All of this sprawls over 33 acres.
The entire Reservation 13 plot is 67 acres. It has been eyed for an ambitious redevelopment for the better part of a decade, which would take advantage of its riverfront access, proximity to Capitol Hill and nearby Metro stop. A D.C. Council approved plan envisions 50 acres of the site as a “vibrant, mixed-use urban waterfront community,” with the rest preserved as parkland. It is a prime location for medium- to high-density development, an area that could easily become home for thousands of new residents, pumping economic lifeblood back into the city.
And now city politicians are looking to cut a behind-the-scenes deal that could give one-half or more of that valuable land away. In terms of economic lifeblood, a team headquarters used 52 weeks a year is a sight better than a stadium that’s used a dozen times a year, but it simply does not have anywhere near the potential to grow the city population and tax base as a vibrant new residential/commercial neighborhood has.
One problem: Reservation 13 is nowhere near becoming a vibrant new residential/commercial neighborhood. The city’s attempt to sign up a master developer several years ago fell flat after it become clear that financing would be impossible after the 2008 credit implosion. The plot currently hosts a number of government facilities — the former D.C. General Hospital, the medical examiner, a homeless shelter, the D.C. Jail — that will have to be painstakingly relocated into neighborhoods that don’t want to host those types of facilities.
The backers of this Redskins plan will argue that the headquarters deal is the best way to catalyze development in Hill East, that it will bring investment to the vicinity and hopefully cause at least a few big-salaried (and big-tax-paying) players to settle down in the city. Maybe so, but that will be more than offset by the economic potential squandered plopping 30 or 40 acres of football facility on one of the city’s most promising redevelopment sites.
There are other options. A better one is just blocks to the north. Adjacent to RFK sit acres upon acres of parking lots that see relatively little use these days. They sit on land owned by the National Park Service and are leased to the city explicitly for sports-related uses. It’s not much of a stretch to think an NFL training facility could pass under that definition, while maintaining the Hill East reservation for higher and better uses.