After a long effort behind closed doors, D.C. politicians have reached a deal to replace Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium and the wasteland of empty parking lots that separate if from NE. The decaying building is almost always empty–including when DC United plays–and has begun to resemble mid-nineties Sarajevo. Aside from the occasional cyclist or student driver, it is completely abandoned 350 days per year. Razing the stadium is a great a idea, but replacing it with another is extremely foolish, especially because there are other people waiting in line to give us a free stadium.
The complex occupies 190 acres of prime riverfront real estate, but only a small percentage of that space is actually a stadium. The National Park Service owns the land itself and currently requires it to be used for recreation while the District Council leases it. This seems like quite an obstacle to residential development, but the requirement could easily change if our mayor and council members invested the same amount of political capital they have spent advocating for billionaire team owners.
The best outcome for the District would be for NPS to raze the stadium and auction the land in small parcels. If redeveloped at a density similar to Columbia Heights, nearly 20,000 new residents could live in the District. Those already living here would have a plethora of new options for dining, shopping, and other services.
Redevelopment would be a revenue windfall for District coffers, and construction would be entirely financed by developers and homeowners taking advantage of the new land. Preserving RFK’s status as a sports-themed dead zone probably means giving hundreds of millions of tax dollars to local billionaires and getting little in return in terms of economic development or tax revenue. Mayor Bowser’s prior sports indulgences with extremely speculative public benefits, such as a $50 million basketball practice court, indicate that she’s likely to give away much more to build a football stadium.
The stupidity of building a new stadium instead of housing and commercial space is compounded by the fact that we don’t actually have to choose between the two. If we build housing at RFK and forego a stadium, there are gullible Marylanders a mere seven miles away who will build us a stadium with their own tax revenue.
Despite the lack of economic development surrounding RFK or FedEx Field, Prince George’s County politicians are clamoring to repeat the mistakes of the past. If they’re willing to pay for our team, let’s benefit from their foolishness and make the District a better place to live at the same time.