D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is asking President Trump for approval to make major upgrades to federally owned properties — the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium site, Franklin Square downtown and the city’s three golf courses — currently controlled by the Interior Department.
Her request could advance the idea of building a new 65,000-seat stadium for the Washington Redskins when they depart FedEx Field or a 20,000-seat arena capable of hosting the Washington Capitals and Wizards should they leave the Verizon Center in the future.
RFK Stadium will lose its only long-term tenant in late 2018 when the D.C. United soccer team is scheduled to move into its own stadium on Buzzard Point in Southwest D.C. But the RFK land is leased to the city by the National Park Service and that deal, which expires in 2038, would need to be modified or extended in order to develop new sports facilities or housing on the site.
In a two-page letter, Bowser wrote about her shared interest with the president in making infrastructure upgrades and said RFK would be an apt place to start.
“We believe the site can be transformed to create and preserve green space, add much needed housing and retail, include a sports/or entertainment purpose and above all generate jobs for our residents and the region,” she wrote.
The mayor is preparing to address the issue in her State of the District address Thursday evening.
A similar request for RFK that Bowser made of the previous interior secretary, Sally Jewell, was rebuffed in part over Jewell’s opposition to the football team’s name. Jewell, an appointee of President Obama, told the mayor she was uncomfortable with the team’s name, which is considered a racial slur by some Native American groups, particularly given the agency’s role overseeing treaty relationships with Native American Tribes.
Since then, however ,the scales in the name debate have tilted considerably. Last spring, a Washington Post poll found that nine in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by the name.
Then Trump won the presidential election, in part by railing against Democratic officials he deemed preoccupied with political correctness. A pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, even ran a television ad against Hillary Clinton, saying she wanted to “mess up your football too” by changing the team’s name.
Bowser, a Democrat who has made a point of not saying the name, reiterated her interest in bringing the team back to the city two weeks ago on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show, explaining that: “I think they would be a better team at RFK.” Her official Twitter account used the team’s name.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was traveling and unavailable for comment Thursday but in his confirmation hearing he expressed strong support of local input into how federal lands are used. A former congressman from Montana, Zinke told senators as a nominee that his first task as secretary was to “restore trust, and work with, rather than against, local communities and states.”
A spokeswoman for Zinke said that although he has not advocated for changing the team’s name he “has said in the past that if the team were to change their name he thinks the ‘Nations’ would be a good name to honor Native Americans.”
Though frustration over Interior Department land policies is often registered by western states — where vast spaces are federally owned — the District has also been stymied in its efforts to make improvements to National Park Service land.
City officials, in tandem with the Downtown Business Improvement District, have been frustrated in their efforts dating to 2012 to reach an agreement for improvements to Franklin Square on K Street downtown that would include removing some of the existing trees in favor of a redesigned central fountain, pedestrian pathways and a children’s playground.
Bowser wrote to Trump that “execution has been stalled for several months.” She asked that he transfer control of the park to the city, saying the District is committed to the project and included funding in its 2017 budget.
Bowser visited Trump Tower in New York to meet with the business mogul during the transition and met with Trump in the Oval Office March 13 after the president, surprisingly, asked to meet with her and Metro General Manager Wiedefeld to discuss snow preparation.
Perhaps she will find common ground with Trump, an avid golfer and owner of several golf resorts, in upgrading the city’s courses. The city is home to three Park Service-owned golf courses, Rock Creek Park, East Potomac Park (Hains Point) and Langston. In 2015 groups including the Federal City Council, led by former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, launched the Langston Initiative aimed at modernizing and upgrading the facilities through public-private partnerships.
Bowser asked the president if he would consider the plan to “create a world class urban golf course system in the nation’s capital on one of the sites and a family entertainment and golf practice facility on the others.”
This story has been updated to show that Bowser’s Twitter account used the name ‘Redskins’ even though she did not use it on the Kojo Nnamdi show.