The land is an anchor tethering us to an unequal past. Now we can make it a sail guiding us to a more inclusive and prosperous future for residents on both sides of the river.
RFK is owned by the National Park Service and leased to the District until 2038. The time left on the lease is too short a period for the District to make a substantial investment, and the lease’s current use restrictions, which allow only sports, recreation and entertainment, are too narrow to match the needs of a growing city.
Without congressional action, the site will continue to be 190 acres of mostly asphalt, providing no benefit to D.C. residents or the 20 million people who visit the nation’s capital every year. There is, however, an opportunity to deliver a win-win for both the federal government and D.C. residents.
H.R. 1883, introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), would authorize the District to purchase the land at market value. A full land conveyance would allow the District to develop the site to create housing, jobs, development and tax revenue.
We know by example that conveyances of federal land can successfully transform underused assets into vibrant neighborhoods.
The flourishing neighborhoods of Navy Yard and Capitol Riverfront were run-down and underused less than two decades ago. Businesses shunned these areas, roads were in disrepair, and housing was limited.
Norton got Congress to transfer those sites to the District, and the District got to work. The Transportation Department headquarters opened along M Street in 2007, and investors began to recognize new potential. A waterfront many thought unsalvageable is now the envy of cities across the world.
On upper Georgia Avenue, the federal government conveyed nearly 67 acres of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus, which is now being developed with housing and other community-serving amenities, including a firehouse and two schools already delivered, creating 5,000 permanent jobs and 2,100 homes, nearly 450 of which will be affordable.
And witness transformative development at the Wharf. When federal restrictions were lifted and land parcels were transferred, the District made the investments necessary to create the riverfront destination we know and love today. Even better, we secured agreements to ensure at least 51 percent of construction jobs would go to Washingtonians (20 percent from Ward 8) and 30 percent of apprenticeships would go to Ward 7 and 8 residents.
That investment has paid off. The Southwest Waterfront has new housing, hotels, shops, restaurants and opportunity. At its completion, the Wharf will create nearly 6,000 permanent jobs, produce 350 affordable housing units and generate $70.5 million in annual tax revenue for the city.
A transformation of the RFK site would unlock the full potential of the Anacostia River, providing the missing link as the District embraces its riverways. Just as those communities have provided thousands of new homes, so, too, would RFK.
We know that if we are to reach our bold housing goals, the District cannot afford to let any unused land go to waste. Developing the RFK site would allow us to provide more opportunities for residents and meet the demands of a growing economy.
Our mission in the District is to ensure that all of our residents are sharing in the prosperity generated in our city. The RFK campus is an opportunity to make infrastructure, housing and workforce investments that reach Wards 7 and 8 and connect them with Ward 6 and the rest of the city — both sides of the Anacostia River.
In 2008, Nationals Park was unveiled in Navy Yard, sparking the economic renaissance we continue to see along the riverfront today, leading to a 2019 World Series title.
Whether a stadium or sports arena is included in the reimagined RFK campus is a debate for a future date and is something we should decide by and for ourselves. We must all stand united to put back to productive use a vacant sea of asphalt parking and convert it into a thriving neighborhood.