More than 150 residents of Capitol Hill filled a school gymnasium Wednesday night to propose ideas for re-use of the Robert F. Kennedy stadium property.
Most of the ideas centered around sports: playing fields, a pool, a boathouse, skating rinks, walking trails, even a velodrome.
There was one idea they widely and intensely opposed: building a new stadium for the Redskins. And almost every one of the more than 20 people who stood up to oppose a new NFL stadium did so without saying the team’s name.
“We’re not interested in having a professional stadium here. Instead we’re interested in how this land will give back to the community,” said Roslyn Esperon, who lives at the intersection of 23rd and E streets SE.
Another neighbor, Ted Arthur, stood up and said flatly: “Bottom line: No NFL stadium.” Others lamented the possibility of having to continue living beside dozens of acres of parking lots or the crowds that would be associated with eight home games.
The District’s convention and sports unit, Events DC, held the meeting after months of studying what do with the 190 acres of land that connects the Anacostia River to Capitol Hill, including RFK and the DC Armory. The group is planning a citywide meeting Sept. 30 at the convention center to gather more input before publishing its recommendations.
The RFK property is among the most valuable development sites in the region. From its days as home to the Redskins, the property enjoys excellent transportation access. Interstate 295 is right across the river and nearby sits a Metrorail station serving the Blue and Orange lines. The current primary tenant of RFK, DC United, is expected to move into a new stadium in Southwest D.C. in coming years.
The National Park Service owns the land and is leasing it to the District under a law stipulating that the property be used for “stadium purposes; providing recreational facilities, open spaces, or public outdoor recreation opportunities; or other similar public purposes.”
The lease runs through 2038.
To residents’ dismay, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has said she would like to see the Redskins return to a new stadium on the RFK site. Earlier in the day she joined Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and hundreds of supporters after the two agreed to locate a $55 million basketball practice facility and arena on St. Elizabeths in Southeast. Taxpayers would pay 90 percent of the cost plus provide the land.
At the meeting Wednesday, residents repeatedly asked why they hadn’t been given more information about the plans for RFK and whether an NFL stadium was already in the works given the mayor’s announcement. Instead they suggested athletic facilities, an amphitheater and better access to the water.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), also a critic of the stadium idea, said “oceans of asphalt aren’t necessarily serving the neighborhood in the way we wish they would.”
He said regardless of what was built on the site down the road he hoped interim improvements like replacing parking lots with playing fields would be considered.
“I think these are tremendous untapped resources in our city,” he said
Events DC President and Chief Executive Gregory O’Dell and Max Brown, the organization’s chair, apologized to the crowd for not sharing more information earlier. In the past, Brown said, “there may have been a little distrust. Not enough communication.”
“We have an amazing opportunity on this campus to re-imagine what this area is,” Brown said.
O’Dell and Brown listed two dozen organizations they had contacted about potentially utilizing space on the RFK property, including entertainment companies, universities (such as Georgetown, George Washington and American), collegiate sports conferences (such as the Big East and Atlantic-10) and U.S. sporting groups including U.S. Swimming, U.S. Lacrosse and U.S. Soccer.
Oddly enough, the one potential user they didn’t speak with was the team most people in the room weren’t naming.
“We made outreach to the Redskins,” O’Dell said. “And they did not respond to us.”
An earlier version incorrectly said the meeting was held in a church gymnasium. It was a school gymnasium. The post has been updated.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz