So it’s clear: Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) have their eye on possibly putting a Washington Redskins headquarters and training facility on city-controlled land just south of RFK Stadium.
The debate in the future weeks, months and perhaps years will fall along these lines: Is using the land for a Redskins facility a waste of one of the city’s largest, most accessible, more desirable parcels? That’s the position of council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who represents the neighborhoods just to the west of the tract, and residents who are waiting on the city and developers to move on a 2002 master plan.
Or is a Redskins facility one way of catalyzing development in an area that has seen big plans drawn up but little wherewithal or capacity on the part of developers and financiers to turn the plans into reality? That’s what Gray and Evans are likely to argue when they meet with residents later this month.
One developer, who is part of a group that’s bidding on the deal, told my colleague Jonathan O’Connell Thursday that he was not opposed to the notion of a Redskins facility. “The training idea is not necessarily mutually exclusive from the master plan redevelopment that we proposed,” said Calvin Gladney of Mosaic Urban Partners.
But one of many unanswered question is, just how much redevelopment will the city need to forego in order to host the Redskins?
The magic number appears to be 33 acres, which is roughly the size of the state-of-the-art Tampa Bay Buccaneers facility that Gray and Evans quietly visited last fall — a facility that Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen helped build when he was in the Bucs’ employ.
The Hill East plot is 67 acres; subtract roads, parkland and other features, you have 50 acres of developable land. By that math alone, a Redskins facility extensive enough to capture the team’s interest would replace half of the development.
The facility boundaries that city sources have shared with me are 19th Street SE to the west, Independence Avenue SE to the north, Water Street SE (now disused) to the east and C Street SE to the south — not including St. Coletta of Greater Washington, a center for the intellectually disabled that sits on the northwest corner of the land under a long-term ground lease. In the schematic below from the Hill East request-for-offers, the Skins facility would occupy the development plots marked A through F, it appears:
Even then, it appears that might not be enough land. Using an online mapping tool, taking the northernmost end of Hill East south to C Street gives the Redskins only about 18 acres. To get more than 30 acres, the plot would have to extend south as far as the northern end of the D.C. Jail. That leaves an approximately 20-acre triangle of land that is, thanks to its proximity to the jail and its nonproximity to the Stadium-Armory Metro station, the least desirable part of the Hill East tract:
Note that the proposal as it currently exists doesn’t extend farther to the east, onto the RFK Stadium reservation. Were the east border to be extended to the Anacostia shoreline, to encompass the southern tip of the RFK parking lots, the plot would be just shy of the magic 33 acres:
Bill Hall, who chairs the board that oversees the RFK Stadium and the surrounding lands, said Thursday that he and his organization, Events DC, have a “great interest” in bringing the Redskins back to D.C.. He added that the RFK campus would be an “ideal location” for a training and headquarters compound.
“It’s time for them to return to the city and location whether they’ve had their greatest on-the-field success,” he said. “We’re interested in taking whatever steps would be necessary to facilitate that.” But he said Events DC, formerly the Sports and Entertainment Commission, has not been part of the most recent discussions.
There are a few reasons why Gray and Evans might not be talking about the RFK lots right now.
The 1988 stadium lease with the National Park Service says the land can be used only for “stadium purposes ... recreational facilities, open space, or public outdoor recreation opportunities ... [or] other similar public purposes.” Whether a pro football training facility fits into those strictures is unclear at best, and the lease also says the RFK lands “shall not be transferred ... to any person or entity other than the United States or any political subdivision or agency of the District of Columbia or the United States.”
Still, Hall said, “there is no question in my mind” that the Park Service would consider a Redskins facility an allowable use for the RFK land.
If that’s the case, then, here’s an even better notion: Why not put the Redskins facility entirely on the RFK parking lots, where tax-generating development is prohibited?
The whole of the southernmost stadium parking lot is about 26 acres. To get to the magic 33 acres, the team might build on land north of Independence Avenue, or it might extend south onto land currently occupied by a D.C. Water facility. (That building, a sewage treatment facility, is expected to be obsolete when wastewater storage tunnels come online in 2018; a D.C. Water spokesman said Thursday the agency hasn’t yet made plans for the land.)
But there’s a big catch for a wholesale takeover of the RFK lots: If the city has any hope of having the Redskins stadium follow a training facility back into town — and believe me, that is the hope — conventional wisdom, as expressed by Evans, holds that every single RFK parking space is crucial.
”You need the parking for the stadium,” Evans told me earlier this week, further explaining that building on the lots would be an “environmental disaster” due to the buildup of toxins after five decades of use.
So there you have it. I and many others breathlessly await what Gray will present to the community later this month, but from what has become public thus far, it’s hard to visualize a Redskins training facility that will be big enough to meet the team’s desires, generate significant economic development and allow city fathers to indulge their hopes and dreams of a new Redskins stadium.