D.C. hopes to lure Redskins back

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a map that mislabeled the Anacostia River.

D.C. hopes to lure Redskins back

District officials are mounting the most serious effort in 15 years to lure the Washington Redskins back to the city, proposing to host a team headquarters and training center not far from the site of many of the team’s most storied triumphs.

The region’s most popular pro- sports franchise bears the city’s name but has not had an official presence in the District since it vacated RFK Stadium in 1997.

D.C. officials say they have identified a parcel for the team facilities and are in talks with the Redskins about relocating from a training center in Virginia. Still, there is no agreement, and leaders in surrounding neighborhoods worry that a football facility would scuttle development plans in place for nearly a decade.


“There is no deal,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who has a key role in the talks. “There are conversations.”

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), a longtime Redskins fan, has taken a personal interest in the effort. He has tasked City Administrator Allen Y. Lew with developing a plan that could entice the team.

Gray, Evans and other officials have met several times with top team representatives over the past year, including General Manager Bruce Allen. At Allen’s suggestion, Gray, Evans and council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) quietly toured the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ state-of-the-art facility in November.

“We are talking to them — absolutely,” said Pedro Ribeiro, Gray’s spokesman. “I don’t think it’s a secret to anybody.”

The discussions do not include building a new Redskins stadium. But city officials hope that a training facility could be a prelude to building one when the team’s lease on FedEx Field in Landover expires in 2027, if not sooner.

The Redskins have considered a replacement for their training center, Ashburn’s 162-acre Redskins Park, for at least two years. Coaches and players have groaned about the aging facility, now in its 20th year of use, and the long distance from FedEx Field.

Redskins spokesman Tony Wy­llie acknowledged that the team is mulling over possibilities, but he declined to comment specifically on the District’s proposal. “We are exploring all of our options,” he said.

The plan is the culmination of talks between the Redskins and city leaders that date to 2008, under former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

“They were interested, but we couldn’t come together in agreement in terms of who pays for what and finding a site,” said Neil O. Albert, who was a deputy mayor and city administrator then.

The land now under consideration is the northernmost portion of a 67-acre parcel known as Reservation 13, or Hill East, that is the site of the former D.C. General Hospital and city social-service facilities.

Drastic switch for Hill East

The property is yards from RFK Stadium, where such legends as Sonny Jurgensen and Darrell Green made history in games about which team owner Daniel M. Snyder still waxes rhapsodic.

In selecting the property — about 30 acres, the size of the Tampa facility — city leaders are hoping to take advantage of the link to the team’s winning past.

But placing a football facility on that land would represent a significant departure from a master development plan approved by the D.C. Council in 2002. That plan reserves the portion in question for “city-wide uses and services, including health care, recreation and education.”

The Hill East parcel is between the Capitol Hill neighborhood and the Anacostia River. It is considered one of the most extensive and valuable tracts under city control, with a Metro station and access to the riverfront, and has been eyed for redevelopment since the hospital closed in 2001.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), whose ward borders the site to the west, said he was “absolutely opposed” to the idea of a football facility there and wanted Gray to focus on plans for mixed-use development Wells said would deliver amenities the community wants and greater tax returns to the city. “It deprives the Hill East neighborhood of a development vision that had been promised,” he said.

Wells’s concerns are echoed by neighborhood leaders, who don’t want to see the planning process discarded. Gray has promised to discuss the future of the Hill East land at a public meeting this month.

The debate over the land stands apart from whether taxpayer money would be required to lure the team. Officials familiar with the dimensions of a possible deal suggest that the city might offer a free or discounted lease to the Redskins if the team is willing to pay to build its facilities there.

The city is very close to its debt limit, making it difficult to offer revenue bonds or other debt instruments to help build a facility.

Wells said the city should be wary of using public money to help Snyder, who he said “has made quite a lot of money on the Washington brand.”

“I would hope that the [District’s] chief financial officer would be the grown-up in the room and say, ‘This is not a good idea,’ ” he said.

Other suitors

Significant obstacles remain if the District were to proceed with development on the site.

Buildings would need to be demolished and underground fuel tanks removed. Operations on the site — among them a homeless shelter, a methadone clinic and a morgue — would have to be transferred elsewhere at great financial and, potentially, political cost.

And the District is just one of the local jurisdictions competing for a piece of the burgundy and gold. Surrounding counties enjoy some advantages — including less-costly land that presents fewer infrastructural and political complications.

Loudoun County officials have not given up hope that the Redskins will remain in Ashburn, and the team recently built a new practice “bubble” that will insulate players from nasty weather.

During his first week in office, Loudoun Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) wrote to Snyder to revive the possibility of building a Redskins Hall of Fame, an idea that the county rejected in 2008. Williams toured the training facility last month with Redskins management and has reached out to business leaders to drum up support.

“I know I speak for the community when I say we love having the Redskins and want them to continue to be here for years to come,” Williams said in an e-mail.

Prince George’s County officials and the Maryland Stadium Authority are studying the feasibility of building a training facility on county-owned land in Bowie. Should the Redskins decide to relocate training operations, the team’s lease on FedEx Field requires it to negotiate “in good faith” with Prince George’s first.

David Iannucci, the county’s assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development, said convincing the team to move would not be easy.

“We are dealing with the Redskins, and they have a long history in Northern Virginia, and I don’t take this casually that it will be easy to pry them from Northern Virginia,” he said.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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