Redskins, Olympic backers both eye new stadium at RFK


Fans walk to RFK Stadium before the start of a baseball game between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals on Sept. 18, 2007. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

The Washington Redskins and the group looking to bring the 2024 Olympics to the District are both eyeing RFK Stadium as a site for a new venue, raising the prospect of a state-of-the-art facility that could serve as host for the Summer Games and home for the team.

It is not clear whether the Redskins and the Olympic exploratory committee have jointly coordinated their efforts for a new stadium. One person with knowledge of the talks said Redskins officials had discussed building a facility at RFK with the Olympic organizers.

There is a likely benefit to both sides working together. Washington is one of four U.S. cities that have expressed interest in hosting the 2024 games, and one of the factors the Olympic Committee considers is whether a city can create a legacy with its facilities rather than allowing them to lie fallow.

And Redskins owner Dan Snyder could ride the city’s Olympic aspirations to support for a new stadium that would allow his National Football League team to return to the District, as well as try to turn the page from a summer spent defending his team’s name.

Two others who have been involved in discussions about a new stadium said the Redskins and the Olympic committee have been working toward a new facility at RFK, but independently of each other. All three people asked for anonymity to speak freely because the discussions were meant to be private.


An aerial photo of the last Redskins game at RFK Stadium on Dec. 22, 1996. (Dudley M. Brooks/The Washington Post)

Even though the team’s current stadium, FedEx Field, is only 17 years old, Snyder has been quietly raising the idea of moving for more than a year. In 2012, he told Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) that he would like to move the team back to the city, according to Gray.

On Wednesday, two months after the U.S. Olympic Committee named the District one of four finalists for a potential bid, Snyder took his pitch for a new stadium public.

Other North American cities have successfully built stadiums to host the Olympics and then put them to regular use for professional teams. Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic stadium became the home field for the Atlanta Braves. Montreal’s venue for the 1976 Games became home to the Montreal Expos, before the team relocated to Washington and became the Nationals.

Erik A. Moses, managing director of sports and entertainment at Events DC, the District’s tourism arm, said he facilitated a tour of the District’s sports venues earlier this year for members of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Though Moses said he had not had direct discussions with the Redskins about a new stadium, he said it made sense to combine the two discussions. Events DC recently selected a consultant, Brailsford & Dunlavey, to study options for redeveloping RFK both with and without the current stadium in place.

“As we get farther down the road with this D.C. 2024 bid, the obvious plan would be if you become the host city for a U.S. bid, where would you build [the stadium]? At RFK. And then convert it afterwards for permanent use,” he said.

During an interview this week with Comcast Sportsnet, Snyder said he is beginning the process of designing and building a stadium with modern amenities — one that kindled memories of RFK, where he attended games while growing up.

“We’ve already seen some preliminary drawings, and I’m going to be very retro with it,” Snyder told CSN. “It’s gonna feel like RFK. It’s gonna move like RFK. I love that. I actually asked architectural firms to do it, and they said that they can do it. I said that I think the lower-bowl sections are going to want to rock the stadium like the old days.”

Tony Wyllie, the Redskins’ senior vice president of communications, said Snyder would have no further public comment on the stadium issue beyond what he said in the interview.

The Redskins have begun interviewing stadium architects interested in the project, according to Jon Niemuth, director of sports for the Americas at AECOM, whose work with the NFL includes the renovation of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints.

“We had heard last year that there was some exploratory work going on about moving the stadium back into the District,” Niemuth said. “As recently as three months ago, we had heard that they had invited firms in privately to just talk about stadium design in general and doing interviews to make a selection and start working with somebody.”

RFK, where the team played for 36 seasons, sits on federal land in Southeast, and the National Park Service would have to be party to any deal that involved the stadium.

Unrest with the team’s name has grown to the extent that it is likely to entangle any stadium planning, particularly in the District, where officials have made clear they are not enamored with the term.

Gray said the name needed to be discussed if the team wanted a stadium deal and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) wrote to Snyder and FedEx president and chief executive Frederick Smith requesting a name change. She also was among 49 Capitol Hill lawmakers to send a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to endorse a change in the name.

Last year, the D.C. Council passed a resolution calling the name “racist and derogatory” and asking for a change.

In his comments to CSN, Snyder also mentioned Maryland and Virginia as possibilities for a new stadium. Though no sites have been raised, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has played hands-off with the name. McAuliffe visited the team at training camp, recently hosted a reception for the team at the governor’s mansion and has discussed a new stadium with Snyder, spokesman Brian Coy confirmed.

“The governor has said that he thinks the commonwealth’s relationship with the Redskins is very good for the commonwealth and our economy,” Coy said.

The Redskins still have 12 years left on a lease at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County, where County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has been measured in his comments about the name, saying that the team should consider a change. Luring the Redskins to the county was the crowning achievement of Baker’s mentor, the late county executive Wayne K. Curry, and Baker issued a statement saying that he would like to see the Redskins “playing in our county for the next generation of fans.”

But Baker has been focused on job growth and economic development, both of which FedEx Field has largely failed to produce.

The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, a shopping center across Interstate 495 from FedEx Field, has lost a number of stores since it opened in 2002, including Borders, Linens ’n Things, Circuit City and Sideline, the restaurant of former Redskins player LaVar Arrington.

The center’s prospects were such that its owners recently agreed to give the county — at no cost — 25 acres next door so a regional hospital could be built there.

But while Baker and his staff have spent more than a year aggressively trying to attract the FBI headquarters to the county, they have yet to begin considering a plan for keeping the NFL team, officials there said.

With so much land next to a Metro station and Interstate 295, nestled among rapidly growing D.C. neighborhoods, RFK provides an attractiveness from which maybe neither group can walk away.

The U.S. Olympic Committee said it hopes to choose a city to nominate by the end of the year. In addition to Washington, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco are in the running.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) called the District “by far the best site.

“There is no other site that is even comparable,” he said. “Putting a stadium in Virginia is like repeating FedEx Field.”

Correction: This story originally stated that Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is in his second term. He is in his first. This version has been corrected

Liz Clarke and Mike DeBonis contributed to this story.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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