With the publication of a Washington Post article reporting efforts to slip a provision for a new Redskins stadium into the congressional year-end spending bill, the Dec. 10th meeting of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B Hill East Task Force (HETF) quickly took on newfound significance.
ANC Commissioner of 6B10, Denise Krepp, who moderated the meeting at St. Coletta (1901 Independence Ave. SE), began with a recap of the Post article, which details alleged secretive coordination between congressional Republicans, the Trump administration, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, and District officials, including an aide to DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser to slip a stadium provision into the congressional year-end spending bill. According to Liz Clarke and Mike DeBonis, who broke the story, the stadium provision in consideration would extend DC’s lease on RFK Stadium for 99 years and open the site to commercial development, which the current lease precludes. The Post article was later verified by WAMU.
Scheduled to attend before the news broke, Ketan Gada, Director of Hill East District Redevelopment for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), was questioned on the topic at the meeting. At the outset of the meeting, Krepp pointedly asked Gada if the article was true.
“The mayor is not doing anything at RFK,” Gada responded.
While he could only “speak to what [he] knows,” Gada said, he reiterated that the only plans on the table are to extend the District’s present lease on RFK Stadium, or to transfer ownership of the land from the National Park Services (NPS) to DC. In regard to District officials coordinating with other government leaders, Gada said, “I can’t speak to it. I’m not privy to it. I can speak to what I know and I don’t know [about that].”
Faced with answers seemingly at odds with the Post’s reporting, Krepp said she would send an email to the Post’s Executive Editor Martin Baron. Gada claimed that was a “fear tactic,” according to an audio recording of the meeting, but asked to be included on any such correspondence.
The email, which Krepp sent out later that night, asked for Baron’s assistance, and was sent to Gada and numerous other officials and media outlets, including the Hill Rag.
“Residents repeatedly questioned Mr. Gada about the Mayor’s involvement,” she wrote in the email. “These questions were based on the recent Washington Post story written by Mike DeBonis and Liz Clarke.”
“Each time he was questioned,” the email continued, “Mr. Gada claimed lack of knowledge and denied that Mayor Bowser was speaking with Congressional representatives. … Please help us understand who Mayor Bowser is talking with in Congress and what help she is requesting. I’m making this request because Hilleast residents don’t believe the story that was spun by DMPED tonight.”
‘No New Information’
In an interview after the meeting ended, Gada said that “there’s no new information” in the article, “besides [it] stating ‘Hey, somebody might have talked about expanding the use of the site from just a recreational ways to mixed-use,” which he said Bowser had already mentioned in a letter written to President Trump last year about the District’s interest in upgrading the RFK Campus.
“We believe the site can be transformed to create and preserve green space, add much needed housing and retail, include a sports/or entertainment purpose and above all generate jobs for our residents and the region,” the letter reads.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in August for three multi-purpose recreational fields, the first components of the RFK Campus short term, or ten-year plan. The plan contains five components, none of which are commercial use
Later that day, at the Redskins’ annual “Welcome Home Luncheon,” Bowser, who sat beside Snyder, told the audience to “Bring it home,” widely perceived as a reference to the Redskins’ home stadium.
In terms of Reservation 13 and beginning other construction on the site, Gada says the DMPED is taking “a more wait and see approach.” Whatever will end up happening, however, “will adhere to the master plan … that was agreed upon in 2008.”
Residents of ANC 7F, where Reservation 13 is located, and ANC 6B, which borders the property and RFK Stadium, seemed skeptical of information received from local officials, particularly after a HETF meeting last October, when a DMPED representative made no mention of Reservation 13 being involved in DC’s Amazon proposal. Five days later the plan was revealed to the public, and residents learned that almost all available land on Reservation 13, besides that already allocated for Phase 1 development, had been included.
After the meeting, Krepp spoke candidly.
“Does the mayor think I’m an idiot?” she asked. “News reporters are trained to double and triple check their facts. If the Washington Post is writing stories, if WAMU is writing stories, and Fox News is here, then the statement of ‘I don’t know what’s going on. Not to my knowledge,’ doesn’t hold a lot of water.”
Matthew Litman is an intern at Capital Community News. He is pursuing a Literary Arts degree at Brown University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org