The move followed a 10-year saga set against a backdrop of a city in chaos, with finances in tatters, violent crime rising to epidemic levels and a national laughingstock of a local government. When Cooke sealed a deal with then-Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry in late 1995, it came only months after Congress had moved to take control of District government finances, the city still averaged nearly a homicide a day, and residents continued to leave in droves — many of them following the team right out Route 50 to Prince George’s.
So all these years later — with the city now boasting $1 billion in the bank, two-thirds fewer homicides and a population on the rise — you can pardon Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) for looking at the Redskins’ return as a capstone act of civic redemption.
Gray has been in search of a grand gesture to animate his “One City ” mantra and give his administration a trademark goal. But he may soon find that the idea of building a Redskins headquarters and training facility will be a divider, not a uniter.
It starts with the neighborhoods adjacent to the land Gray and Evans have eyed — the northern portion of the 67-acre Hill East tract just south of RFK Stadium. Neighbors there have been waiting a decade for the city to move on a master plan that promises to bring amenities to a dense, thriving community that has known little at the site but a jail, homeless shelter and methadone clinic.
“The idea was that this would be an extension of the neighborhood that would bring new jobs, new retail, new housing in an area that needs all three of those things,” said Brian Flahaven, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area. He said there’s “a lot of skepticism” among his constituents when the Redskins are mentioned as a possibility for the site’s most valuable land.
The opposition won’t end with the neighbors. A politically ascendant group of urban development advocates are already sour on the idea, pointing out that a walled-off training facility will be a black hole in terms of livability. And even if the city doesn’t have to directly put up money to build the facility, always-vocal critics of government giveaways to private enterprises will note the enormous opportunity cost of forgoing 30-plus acres of tax-generating development.
And then there’s the rest of the city political menagerie. There is little evidence that Gray or Evans have moved yet to sell their fellow elected officials on a plan that could require the council to weigh in on changes to the existing Hill East proposal or spend money to prepare the site for construction.
Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) told my colleague Jonathan O’Connell last week he had not been informed of any specific plans. He said that while some residents would love to have the team practice in D.C., “we’re not going to do it at the expense of growth or of neighborhoods that have been left out of economic development in the past.”
Brown added that “the community should be asked to weigh whatever happens there.”
And so they shall. Gray and Evans have pledged to meet with the community later this month, though no firm date has been set. Officials in John A. Wilson Building who were not authorized to speak publicly say that any Redskins plan will be accompanied by a concrete plan to bring amenity-laden development with it.
It might not be enough. This is a city that has taken great pride in the Redskins. But two decades of absence, mediocrity and migration have eased the city’s heartache over losing the team. Plenty of residents now take more pride in living in a growing city with lively, attractive neighborhoods.