With the discussion closing over the proper path toward building a stadium for the D.C. United franchise, it is disheartening how little of the conversation is centered on ensuring that any deal includes robust and District-wide public benefits.
When local governments make deals with developers and sports teams, they often negotiate “public benefits” packages that benefit the public more generally than the proposed deal itself.
A new D.C. United stadium will certainly benefit the soccer team and its fans, attract new business and increase nearby property values.
But because substantial District funding and assets belonging to all of the residents of the District of Columbia are at stake, one component of the deal should also benefit the public generally and contribute to the quality of life of all citizens.
There are precedents to such arrangements. When Prince George’s County negotiated a football stadium for the Redskins, the Redskins agreed to build a first-rate sports and recreation facility for the county near the stadium site. That’s how the county got the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex.
Arlington County agreed to a land swap with a developer in which the developer received a much more desirable piece of property and the county received a piece of land more appropriately suited for recreational fields. The developer agreed to pay for what became Long Bridge Park.
When the District agreed to help build Nationals Park, the Nationals agreed to build its Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7, where there is a need for high-quality programs for children and youth.
One proposal the D.C. Council should consider before passing the D.C. United stadium deal on second reading is my organization’s proposal to convert the 40-acre, environmentally harmful, asphalt parking lot north of RFK Stadium into playing fields and greenspace.
A pressing need exists for more playing fields and publicly accessible open space in the District, where the number of new residents and families has increased dramatically in recent years and is on an upward trajectory.
Membership in youth sports organizations on Capitol Hill and in surrounding neighborhoods has grown, creating unmet demand for high-quality playing fields and greenspace.
No venues in the District can host soccer tournaments, which require multiple fields in close proximity. Surely soccer fields would be an appropriate public benefit to require from a soccer stadium deal.
Our proposal, which is supported by hundreds of District residents and the affected advisory neighborhood commission, would be compatible with any possible future use of the RFK site, including an Olympics bid, or a new, state-of-the-art football stadium, with well-designed parking and improved accessibility by public transportation.
Any deal for a soccer stadium should include robust public benefits for District residents, especially children and youth, such as playing fields and recreational amenities to support healthy, socially engaged lifestyles.
The D.C. Council has one more chance to do the right thing.
The writer is president of Friends of Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park Capitol Hill in Washington.