THERE IS, to be sure, a serious conversation to be had over whether the District should welcome Washington’s football team back to its old home at the site of RFK Stadium. We have doubts about whether a stadium used so infrequently is the best use of this valuable, centrally located property. We have doubts about the city enabling in any way the team’s stubborn refusal to change its offensive name. But those issues can and should be kept separate from efforts to give the District control over the federal site.
Surrounded by thriving, diverse neighborhoods and convenient to road and Metrorail, RFK is a wasted asset. It was leased to the District in 1988 for 50 years by the Interior Department for limited sports and entertainment use. Now, after the departure of D.C. United to a new soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, it sits largely unused, surrounded by a sea of parking lots.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has pushed federal officials to cede control of the land. “We believe the site can be transformed to create and preserve green space, add much needed housing and retail, include a sports and/or entertainment purpose and above all generate jobs for our residents and the region,” she wrote to President Trump on March 29, 2017, in a bid to get an outright transfer of the land or long-term extension of the lease. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) introduced legislation, and a public hearing was held in October 2017.
Therefore, local residents should welcome the possibility of House Republicans’ extending the lease and removing use restrictions without requiring any specific use in a year-end legislative package. “Anybody who would try to keep control of RFK from the residents of the District is misguided,” said Ms. Bowser. The effort unfortunately has become endangered because it is seen as potentially helping Washington football team owner Daniel Snyder if he decides he wants to try to move the team back after his lease at unloved FedEx Field expires in 2027. We understand the unease. Nothing in Mr. Snyder’s management style makes fans or taxpayers eager to lend him a hand.
But that is not the immediate issue. Any decision about a new stadium at RFK would have to be approved by the mayor and D.C. Council after much public debate. What is at stake now is whether the District will have the ability to make decisions about RFK and invest in its future. We think it should, and so should everyone else who supports D.C. home rule.