D.C. Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large) on Wednesday urged Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the city’s nonvoting congresswoman, to do all she could to block what he called a “backdoor attempt” to pave the way for the Washington Redskins to build their next stadium in the District.
Grosso, who formerly served as Norton’s chief counsel before being elected to the council in 2013, is the second council member to publicly oppose a plan, first disclosed by The Washington Post, to insert a provision granting a 99-year lease extension on the RFK site in a massive federal spending bill that’s expected to be voted on before Congress adjourns next week. The provision, as envisioned, also would lift current prohibitions on commercial development at the 190-acre site, where both Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder hope the team’s next stadium will be built, ringed by mixed-use development.
“This process lacks transparency, and there has been no engagement with District of Columbia residents or tribal leaders to afford them an opportunity to voice their concerns,” Grosso wrote in a letter, describing the strategy as a “ploy” designed to avoid public scrutiny.
Grosso has long opposed the Redskins’ name and logo, which he considers racist and offensive.
Norton’s office declined to comment on Grosso’s letter, referencing the congresswoman’s statement Friday that she was continuing to work on “multiple legislative options” for redevelopment of the RFK site.
Also Wednesday, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who will be chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee next year, voiced his discomfort with the team name and suggested it could be a stumbling block if the city seeks a lease extension on behalf of the Redskins during the next legislative session, when Democrats take control of the House.
That is largely why Snyder and D.C. officials have been working quietly to get the long-term lease approved before the current Republican-controlled Congress adjourns.
Grijalva, who would have to sign off on any request for a lease extension on the federally owned RFK site as chairman of the panel, voiced concern about any request to remove restrictions on commercial development. Snyder’s vision for his $1 billion, 60,000-seat stadium includes a moat and surrounding complex of restaurants, retail shops and office buildings that would attract business year-round.
“The concern I have about that is it is named after Robert F. Kennedy,” Grijalva said in an interview Wednesday. “What I don’t want to happen is that . . . Washington ends up with a plaque around some condominiums. There is a significance to that naming, and that naming needs to be protected.”
Asked whether he had concerns about the NFL team’s name, Grijalva said: “Redskins? I’ve always had that concern.”
Asked whether the name could be a dealbreaker if ceding control of the RFK site on the Redskins’ behalf were considered during his chairmanship of the House committee, Grijalva said: “I think the question would rise, yes — not only from me but from other members on my side. Snyder’s got to wake up to reality that that name is offensive, and I think we’ll make that clear if it comes to that point.”
The issue of enabling Snyder to build his next stadium on the RFK site puts Norton, who is serving a 15th term and is well respected as the District’s advocate in Congress, in a difficult spot. To what extent does she press for a land deal that Bowser clearly wants but that divides the council, at least at this stage, and has not been debated among taxpayers?
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who represents neighborhoods west of the stadium site, laid out his opposition last week, saying it would be an “incredibly wrong decision” to build an NFL stadium on the RFK site.
“Every dollar and every square foot that we put into a stadium and parking lot is one that we’re not putting into affordable housing or local businesses or parks and green spaces,” Allen said in an interview.