Having the right goal but pursuing it for the wrong reason can lead to a bad result.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced in her State of the District speech this week that she will seek to get Congress to “fully convey” the RFK Stadium campus from the National Park Service to the District at “fair market value.” That is an excellent goal to pursue.
However, doing that as a means to bring Daniel Snyder’s NFL team from FedEx Field in Prince George’s County to the 190-acre parcel surrounding RFK Stadium is a bad idea. It should be noted that Bowser stressed that “there is no deal to bring a professional sports team to that site,” adding,“Whether a stadium or sports arena is included in the re-imagined RFK campus is a debate for a future date, which as a city we must decide for ourselves.”
But has Bowser tipped her hand?
Perched last August next to Snyder at the head table at the Welcome Home Luncheon love-fest — and with council member and Snyder fan Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) seated at an adjacent table with team president Bruce Allen — Bowser let the city know where she stands on the football question. “Bring it home,” Bowser told the approving audience. Where would “home” be other than the RFK site?
Asked what she thought the team’s return would do for the city, Bowser said, “We think all of our professional sports teams should be in our city limits.”
That, of course, is not a universally held belief in the District of Columbia.
Snyder’s record as team owner is Exhibit A in how to run down a successful franchise while making bundles of money along the way. Also, Snyder’s full-throated defense of the team’s pejorative name is shameful and a disgrace.
He is eager for his team to leave the agony of FedEx Field and return to the city it fled more than 20 years ago. The prospect of getting a glitzy new stadium to boot is likely a driving factor. The city, on the other hand, has gotten along very well since the team moved across the District line.
That said, the District should have control of the RFK site, which has the potential to bring commercial, residential and recreational development to a place that is nearly a wasteland. Bowser’s wish for the District to own the land is right on the mark. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told me she would introduce legislation next week that would allow the District to purchase the RFK site. The bill, she said, will not address future use of the land.
Currently, it is zoned for recreational use and stadium purposes. Under a leasing arrangement with the National Park Service that runs through 2038, Events DC — the taxpayer-funded sports and entertainment arm of the District government — has plans for multipurpose redevelopment that include a huge food-market hall, basketball courts, go-kart tracks and the like.
Purchase of the land by the District would remove restrictions on its use, potentially enabling residential and commercial projects. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) , a vocal stadium opponent, said once the RFK site is acquired, the council will engage in a methodical public process for determining its best use. Citizens should hold the council to that pledge.
The flaw in this idea is that Bowser’s planned acquisition might facilitate Snyder’s return.
The thought of allowing a team with an infamously disparaging name to be housed on D.C. soil will outrage many residents of the city, if not the country.
There are also the costs involved. Evans, chairman of the council’s finance committee and a big booster of the team’s return, told me that if it comes back, Snyder would have to reach into his own pocket to build a stadium. But Evans also said the District would be responsible for preparing the site infrastructure, which he estimates would cost about $200 million.
Though Bowser has stressed that the only thing on the table is the purchase of the site, some members of Congress may make a connection to Snyder and his team. After all, it was only December when Republicans, about to lose their House majority, tried to rush through legislation that would have paved the way for Snyder to build a new stadium on the RFK site.
What’s to keep Snyder, who donated $1 million to President Trump’s inaugural festivities, from getting in on Bowser’s act?
The possibility of Snyder benefiting from the land deal could be the wrong reason that leads Bowser’s great goal to a very bad result.
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