More than 300 people filled a meeting room at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Monday evening to see and hear the ideas for what to do with the 190 acres surrounding RFK Stadium, and for the next three hours the possibility of a Redskins stadium or basketball and hockey complex on the property mostly took a back seat.
Instead residents asked how the property — currently covered mostly with parking lots — could produce new playing fields, expand the street grid, connect better to nature and provide an eastern gateway to the District on par with the Lincoln Memorial and Memorial Bridge on the west end.
“We were thinking about a monument in line with the others,” said Maya Warburg, a George Washington University student. “That was something that was important to us.”
“I think some artists’ studio space, as an incubator, would be something that would be really wonderful for this city,” said Jo-Ann Neuhaus, who lives downtown.
“Where does the money come from?” asked Kate Langbein, who lives near the site.
Though they are largely in the business of operating sports facilities for professional and amateur teams, officials from Events DC listened to the litany of ideas and pledged to make short-term improvements to the property that would include public soccer fields and market space.
“What we set out to do is determine what is the possibility of this amazing 190-acre site in the nation’s capital and to focus on what we can provide in terms of options to the mayor and to the council so that they can decide what we should do to activate this site,” said Events DC chair Max Brown.
The lead architect on the project, Jason Long, a partner at the design firm OMA, based out of the New York office, said in an interview that one of the property’s most unique and important aspects was its proximity to natural, unbuilt parkland on Kingman Island, Heritage Island and the Anacostia watershed.
“There’s really almost a kind of wild nature aspect that’s almost in the middle of D.C. at this point and really could be extended into the city along the waterfront,” Long said. “Nature along the waterfront that can be more active and different from other green spaces in D.C., which tend to be really formal and get used in a specific way.”
Members of the D.C. Council began to weigh in as well. D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), said he was encouraged that the plans focused on making near-term improvements and neighborhood connections. Two new pedestrian bridges would connect to Kingman and Heritage islands and an “urban beach” would give residents direct access to the water.
Parking would be reduced from nearly 9,000 spaces to between 6,900 and 7,300 spaces.
“There’s not going to be another stadium here for another five years or even another 10 years, but if we wait a decade to rip up asphalt to put in fields or athletic facilities then we’ve really missed an opportunity,” Allen said.
Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) said she was pleased at the wide array of ideas being considered by Events DC, though critics suggested there ought to be a broader look at whether housing could be built on the site given the rising cost of living in the city.
One impediment is the District’s lease on the land from the federal government, which requires that the property be used for “stadium purposes”; for “providing recreational facilities, open space, or public outdoor recreation opportunities”; or for “other similar public purposes.”
Hanging over all the ideas is the question of whether the Redskins will ultimately return, and a number of residents said they don’t think an NFL stadium makes sense for the future of the city. Events DC officials have not heard from team owner Daniel Snyder about his stadium preferences.
“They’re playing it very close to the vest at the moment,” said Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) of the team. Evans has been at the center of every D.C. mega-project during the past 15 years, including Nationals Park and the convention center. He said Ted Leonsis, majority of owner of the Wizards and Capitals, was also a serious candidate to move to the site when the Verizon Center’s lease expires in 2027.
“Ted is considering, at some point, probably five years and beyond, in doing something new,” Evans said.
Even if a stadium or arena is built, Long suggested that the era of single-use stadium projects with gobs of parking that is rarely used — such as RFK — was over. Or ought to be.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do is make a plan that can really integrate an arena or a stadium into the city that is hopefully much more successful than it has been in a lot of examples that we can name,” Long said. “We don’t want a kind of sea of parking that we see today or that we see in numerous other stadiums around the country. I think the city really deserves more than that.”
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz