A House subcommittee yesterday approved a bill that would transfer ownership of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium from the federal government to the District government without charge.
Ivanhoe Donaldson, D.C. deputy mayor for economic development, told the panel that District ownership of RFK is appropriate, since the city supplied most of the money to build the stadium, and would further recognize the city's authority under home rule.
"It's an institution of the District of Columbia community, and as such rightly belongs to the government and citizens that support it," Donaldson told the House District subcommittee on fiscal affairs and health.
Aides to D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, one of the bill's sponsors, said they expected the full House and Senate to pass the bill.
The D.C. Armory Board now manages and operates the stadium under a $1-a-year lease it has with the National Park Service.
The attempt to transfer ownership to the District comes at a time when the city is also considering a proposal to have Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke take over daily operation and management of RFK.
According to Robert H. Sigholtz, the Armory Board's general manager, the city's discussions with Cooke also have included the possiblity of his bringing major league baseball back to Washington, which has been without a team since 1972.
Sigholtz said in an interview that the Armory Board has told Cooke the return of major leage baseball would be a prerequisite of any deal to lease him the stadium. Sigholtz said he is confident the city would support a team and noted that surveys conducted by the Baltimore Orioles baseball team have shown that 22 percent of the fans attending Oriole games come from the Washington metropolitan area.
An informed source estimated it would take about $50 million to bring a major league baseball team here, including between $12 and $15 million to refurbish the stadium and $25 million to obtain rights to a team.
"I'm definitely interested" in getting a major league baseball team for Washington, Cooke said yesterday in a brief telephone interview from Los Angeles.
He did not elaborate on what he might be doing to achieve such a goal, but he has previously said he would make his move when he felt the time was right. Cooke said he would prefer to bring in a National League team. The nearby Orioles play in the American League.
Cooke also confirmed that he has had "a number of discussions" with Mayor Marion Barry about his taking over RFK's daily operations.
Under such an arrangement, officials said, Cooke would pay the Armory Board a flat fee, possibly about $500,000, or a percentage of his ticket sales, whichever was greater, to lease the stadium.
Cooke would then sublet the stadium to other tenants, such as the Washington Federals of the U.S. Football League and Team America of the North American Soccer League, Sigholtz said.
The Redskins currently rent the stadium from the Armory Board for 12 percent of gross ticket sales, or about $800,000 a year.
A major advantage in leasing the stadium to Cooke is that he would have the financial resources the Armory Board lacks to pay for extensive capital improvements needed at RFK, including the construction of private luxury boxes in the mezzanine area, adding more seats, and modernizing restaurant facilities, Sigholtz said.
The stadium, which opened in 1961, was built for $19.8 million with bonds issued by the Armory Board. In addition, about $16.4 million in interest was paid on the bonds.
Originally, revenues from stadium rentals were expected to pay off the bonds. But when revenues were lower than expected, the city and federal government repaid the bonds, with the city paying nearly $23 million, the federal government nearly $10 million and the Armory Board contributing $3.6 million.
Under the proposed ownership transfer, the city would receive a total of 130 acres from the federal government, which includes the stadium and surrounding parking areas that hold up to 12,500 cars and 300 buses.