This story has been updated.
Intent on keeping the Washington Redskins in Prince George’s County, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has held a series of private meetings over the past two years with team owner Daniel Snyder and, more recently, has spoken with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke about acquiring control of federal land for a new stadium.
The upshot was a memorandum of understanding with federal officials that represents the first step toward Maryland getting development rights to a 300-acre parcel of land in Oxon Cove, adjacent to MGM National Harbor, via a “land swap.”
Hogan expounded on his efforts Tuesday, explaining that the deal is not final and insisting that Maryland would not contribute financially toward construction of a new stadium.
“We are not going to build a billionaire’s stadium, either,” Hogan told reporters. “We have no interest whatsoever, and there have been no discussions, ever, about us spending one penny in construction.”
Nonetheless, local officials pushed back swiftly on the governor’s under-the-radar approach to negotiations and sounded alarms about an NFL stadium’s impact on traffic and the environment.
In Prince George’s County, where the Oxon Cove site is located, few local officials said they were aware of Hogan’s plans. Prince George’s Council Member Mel Franklin (D-At large) said he had not received any communication from Hogan’s office and learned about the memo from news reports.
“You can have a great idea torpedoed because the right, inclusive process wasn’t followed,” said Franklin, who added that he wishes Hogan’s office had been more communicative with local politicians and residents.
Council member Monique Anderson Walker (D-District 8), whose district includes the site, said local officials were “blindsided with this information.”
“Now that it’s out, we want to have transparency and communication with our governor,” she said, noting that residents need to be included in the process.
The memorandum, executed in September 2017 and first confirmed by The Washington Post in a report Friday about the District’s efforts to acquire control of the former RFK Stadium site for the same purpose, is a nonbinding document but an essential step. Hogan’s office declined to make it available, saying it was part of privileged economic-development deliberations and in draft form.
As Hogan explained the parameters of the proposed deal, Maryland would trade a parcel of land it owns in the western part of the state for the 300-acre federally owned parcel near National Harbor. Before any deal can be executed, the land must undergo an environmental assessment and appraisal, he noted.
But he was unequivocal about his belief that the Oxon Cove site represented the Redskins’ best option in building a stadium to replace FedEx Field.
“It’s a wonderful piece of property that the Department of Interior is not really using. It’s just sitting there — 300 acres on the Potomac River, across from National Harbor and MGM,” Hogan said. “Can you imagine the Redskins stadium on a ‘Monday Night Football’ [broadcast], looking at all the monuments reflecting in the Potomac River? It would be the nicest facility in America.”
The 300-acre site sits roughly at the convergence of the three jurisdictions, not far from where the Woodrow Wilson Bridge deposits traffic from Virginia via the Capital Beltway and southbound Interstate 295 brings traffic from Southwest Washington. It is not served by Metro rail.
Franklin said without a new public rail system in the area, which already suffers from heavy traffic, conversation about a new stadium “is dead on arrival.”
During a news conference Tuesday, Hogan said state and county officials would need to have conversations about “infrastructure improvements” but did not mention building new public transit lines.
Walker, who also cited transit as a key consideration moving forward, said residents and county leaders also need to consider the impact the Redskins have had on the county since they moved to FedEx Field and whether the stadium has benefited taxpayers.
“No matter what I think, it really matters what community members think,” she said.
Bonnie Bick, an environmental activist who lives in Oxon Hill, called plans to build a stadium in the Oxon Cove area “outrageous.”
“It’s a tragedy to think they would even consider using public land for a stadium, of all things,” said Bick, who added that she would like to see no new development on the land.
Where skeptics may see inevitable traffic tie-ups for Redskins game days, particularly for weeknight games when commuters collide with NFL-going tailgaters, Hogan’s office sees a vibrant destination with unique options for getting to and from games, including water taxis that link it to the District and shuttle buses that would link to National Harbor.
Hogan, 62, grew up in Landover as a Redskins fan, although his loyalties are now split with the Baltimore Ravens. With a business background in land development and real estate, he has taken a keen interest in efforts to acquire the Oxon Cove site for the state — ideally on behalf of the Redskins or, failing that, further commercial development to enhance the National Harbor complex.
According to a person with knowledge of the private conversations between Maryland officials and the team, the Redskins have indicated that they consider the Oxon Cove site to be “of great interest” and were aware of the memorandum with Interior Department officials. Maryland officials had assumed the Redskins would contact them on the next step in the process. While Maryland officials were aware that the team was interested in other locations, including the RFK site, they were surprised to learn of the team and city’s effort to secure control of the RFK site via a spending bill before Congress adjourns.
Hogan probably faces a challenging sales job in convincing Snyder to build his futuristic venue — preliminary renderings call for it to be ringed by a moat — in Oxon Cove rather than the RFK site that the owner covets. Snyder is said to prefer the RFK site for several reasons, including sentimentality, prestige, accessibility and the prospect of capturing a younger fan base.
The process will not be easy.
The incoming chairman of the House subcommittee directing the Interior Department’s spending said Monday she is firmly opposed to rushing through any legislation that could pave the way for a Redskins stadium on federal land.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who will lead the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies next year, raised two objections: the potential long-term private use of federal land without a thorough public process and the team’s name, which she called a “racial slur.”
Hogan said a land swap would face fewer hurdles in Congress.
“Congress would have to have some role in the process, but not nearly as much as what they have to do in D.C.,” Hogan said. “Our discussions are about land swap for a property in Western Maryland that the Interior desperately wants for an extension of some Civil War battlefields. It’s a property we’re not using that they want to develop into a national park. And what we want is that gateway to Maryland. When you do a land swap, it’s different than a sale or a disposition. . . . Congress would have some role, but it’s not nearly as cumbersome of a process.”
The Redskins played at RFK Stadium from 1961 to 1996, and the site retains a powerful emotional hold on longtime fans, Snyder among them. RFK was the team’s home when Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs led the Redskins to three Super Bowl championships. Even during seasons in which the team fell short, a disparate city came together on Sundays in its 56,000-seat grandstands, which reverberated with the stomping, cheering and shouting of the team’s fans.
FedEx Field, which opened in 1997, has never matched that atmosphere. Now 21 years old, which places it among the older third of the NFL’s 31 venues, it has aged poorly. The team’s losing record under Snyder’s 19-year ownership has not enhanced fans’ enchantment.
Snyder, along with then-partners Mort Zuckerman and Fred Drasner, acquired FedEx Field and the team from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke for roughly $800 million in 1999.
Snyder spent millions in the past 19 years trying to get the building “right,” in his view — expanding it to a capacity of 91,000 for maximum profit; more recently, downsizing it at least three times to convey an image of capacity crowds when ticket demand had dried up.
He now resents the venue and is increasingly frustrated that rival NFL owners have more high-tech stadiums than his, which consistently ranks at the bottom of surveys of game-day experience.
His timetable for building a new stadium, once a site is secured, is tied to the 2027 expiration of the team’s lease for use of the land on which FedEx Field sits.