Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) had a pretty simple message he wanted to share with the 300 or so folks who showed up at the D.C. Armory Thursday night to hear about his Hill East redevelopment plans: Chillax!
Many, if not most, who attended were residents who live adjacent to the 60-plus-acre Reservation 13 parcel and have been concerned to hear city leaders have eyed the site for a Redskins headquarters and training facility.
They wanted answers; this is what they got: “There is no plan,” Gray said, trying to quell the concerns. “There was nothing to present, and there still is nothing to present.”
Understand that no answer except “the Redskins will not be coming here” would have placated the bulk of the audience. Neighbors have waited nearly a decade for progress toward implementing a 2003 master plan — one that calls for retail, residences, maybe a hospital or a bunch of other things that do not include a pro football training facility.
So with Gray and D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) openly acknowledging their desire to lure the Skins back to town and refusing to take Reservation 13 off the table as a destination, there weren’t too many smiling faces looking back at them.
Even the one concrete bit of news announced last night — a move to solicit best and final offers from development teams on the two lots closest to the Stadium-Armory Metro station, known as “F1” and “G1” — didn’t win much in the way of plaudits.
More than once, Gray & Co. were offered the opportunity to state that the F1 and G1 plots were off-limits for any Redskins use. They refused to do so. That made attendees skeptical that the city is serious about progress, even on the parcel’s most desirable and most easily redeveloped portion.
”I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Hill East resident Brynn Barnett.
”It’s hard for the developers to sharpen the pencil and really give you a good deal when the rug can get pulled out right under them,” said Tom Riehle, a Hill resident.
It didn’t help that each speaker managed to misread the room to some degree.
Gray relied on his reliable “One City” theme to cast the return of the Redskins as a project the whole District could rally behind — never mind the parochial but valid concerns of the audience in front of him. Evans proclaimed his faith that “sports franchises make great cities” — never mind that the audience is more interested in a great neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) did her best to obscure Gray’s “One City” rhetoric, inflaming redistricting resentments by announcing to the crowd that she would listen to Ward 7 residents “first and foremost” on Reservation 13 concerns — never mind that the residents most affected by development there, not to mention most of the people in the room, were Ward 6 residents.
There were scattered hints about the reality of the situation, but no one quite said it outright: Reservation 13 is pretty far down on the list of city redevelopment priorities, with too many other projects in the pipeline that are less complicated and closer to shovel-readiness.
No one demonstrated, for example, a willingness to summon the political will to relocate NIMBY-attracting social service uses like a homeless shelter and methadone clinic elsewhere in the city. It barely even came up.
The Redskins, for all the light and heat they generate, are one of the lesser issues when in comes to progress in Hill East. And Gray learned Thursday night that if he’s serious about luring the Redskins back to town, he’d do well to shift his “One City” talk into overdrive, because this part of the city isn’t buying it.