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Most Washingtonians want a new Redskins stadium on RFK site but not the bill, Post poll finds

RFK Stadium hosted the Redskins' glory years, and some hope the team returns to that site. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

A majority of Washingtonians support building a new Redskins stadium on the RFK Stadium site, but most don’t want to use taxpayer dollars to help pay for it, according to a Washington Post poll.

The Redskins have been searching for a new home, and the prospect of the franchise returning to the District has been a hot-button issue for city officials and elected leaders. The November poll of D.C. residents finds that nearly 6 in 10 — 59 percent — support the Redskins building a new stadium two miles east of the U.S. Capitol, where RFK Stadium now stands, while 33 percent are opposed.

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But when it comes to funding the construction, Washingtonians aren’t nearly as supportive — 39 percent of D.C. residents support the city government providing the team with land to build a stadium on, and even fewer, 28 percent, support using city funds to help finance a new stadium.

“I think there’s other issues that should be addressed — housing, hunger,” said Thomas Devaney, 62. “I realize how many jobs can be generated, and that’s the rationale to put public money into these institutions. But the windfall for the owners and for these sports organizations doesn’t outweigh the social concerns and needs that need to be addressed.”

The Post reported this year that the District plans to tear down 58-year old RFK Stadium by 2021. Officials say that move is not necessarily related to plans for a new football stadium.

The Redskins played in RFK from 1961 to 1996, which included the franchise’s glory years, when it won three Super Bowl titles. The team in 1997 moved to FedEx Field in Landover, where it’s contractually obligated to play until 2027. The fan base has eroded and attendance has declined during the team’s tenure at FedEx Field, where the shortcomings include traffic tie-ups and few nearby dining options. The Redskins have been exploring stadium options in Virginia and Maryland, but team owner Daniel Snyder and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) have expressed interest in the team returning to the District.

“A Redskins football team in Washington, D.C. — that’s where they should be,” said Thomas Jeffries, 89, who lives about five blocks from RFK Stadium. “They should have a place in Washington, D.C., to play football. That’s the way I look at it.”

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The RFK site, an 190-acre parcel along the Anacostia River, is owned by the National Park Service but operated by Events DC, the city’s sports and entertainment agency. While Bowser has said she would like a new stadium to anchor a complex with retail, restaurants and affordable housing, the city’s lease with the federal government allows the land to be used only for a stadium, “recreational facilities, open spaces, or public outdoor recreation opportunities,” or similar public uses.

Building a new stadium on the site would require sign-on from several layers of power brokers, and public support could be vital. The matter has divided the D.C. Council, and member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who represents the neighborhoods around RFK, launched an anti-stadium online petition last year that has more than 4,000 signatures.

Opposition to building a Redskins stadium is higher in Ward 6 — which includes the neighborhoods around the RFK site — than in the city overall, with 52 percent opposed compared with 33 percent citywide. The Ward 6 opponents include Rosa Wiener, 85, a native Washingtonian who lives barely a mile from RFK.

“How many football games are there a year?” she said. “Not many. I don’t see why it should take up all that space for limited use.”

The poll finds that support for a new stadium on the RFK site is consistent across most demographics in the city, including at least half of men and women, white and black residents, old and young, and those who live in different parts of the city.

Football stadiums are expensive undertakings, often drawing on public-private partnerships that could include public land, tax breaks and taxpayer dollars. A new stadium expected to open next year in Las Vegas, for example, is expected to carry a price tag of $1.9 billion, which includes $750 million in public funding in the form of a hotel occupancy tax.

In the District, support for providing land to help build a new stadium is 13 percentage points higher among black Washingtonians than whites (47 percent vs. 34 percent). Support for providing land is also higher among those who have lived longer in the District — 45 percent of those who have lived in the city for 20 years or more, compared with 27 percent of those who have lived in D.C. for fewer than 10 years.

Full poll findings and methodology

While support for using city funds to build a new stadium is weak for all residents regardless of how long they have lived in the District, it’s higher among those who have lived in Washington for 20 years or more (33 percent) than those who have lived there fewer than 10 years (19 percent). Black residents are also more supportive of using city funds to build a new stadium (38 percent) than white residents (19 percent).

Redskins team president Bruce Allen has spearheaded the stadium hunt and has said he expects a decision to be made at some point next year. In February, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) informed the Redskins he was withdrawing from efforts to persuade the team to build its next stadium in Oxon Cove Park, adjacent to MGM ­National Harbor, “at this time.” Virginia, under Gov. Ralph Northam (D), has shown little interest in landing the stadium.

The Post poll was conducted by telephone Nov. 12 through Nov. 17 among a random sample of 905 adult residents of the District and carries a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Scott Clement and Scott Allen contributed to this report.

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