Bowser: District Ready to Move Forward at RFK

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Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) speaks at the conference, March 28, 2022 as Mayor Muriel Bowser (D, left) listens. E.O'Gorek/CCN

On Monday, Muriel Bowser signaled that the District is ready to move forward with investment at RFK Campus.

Bowser‘s press conference built on her announcement March 18 that $60 million was earmarked to advance a 100,000 square foot indoor recreational arena for the site in the budget she presented to the DC Council.

“What we’re talking about right now is the District’s willingness to go first with our money,” she said.

The RFK property falls under the jurisdiction of the with the National Parks Service (NPS). A 50-year lease with NPS permitting the city to use the property for sports and recreational purposes expires in 2038.

RFK Stadium was slated to come down in 2019. The RFP for the demolition was re-posted in December 2020, but Bowser said demolition has been delayed due to the pandemic and is expected to re-start shortly.

RFK Stadium has been slated for demolition for the past three years. E. O’Gorek/CCN

Moving Forward on Plans

The indoor sports complex has been included in various iterations of planning for the site. It would accommodate an Olympic-sized swimming pool, indoor gymnastics, track & field and boxing according to Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Director Delano Hunter.

The Mayor’s budget also includes $18 million for bridges connecting the camps to Kingman and Heritage Islands.

Both elements are part of plans drafted for the site in 2017.  Financing has not yet been earmarked for another element, a market hall. The first phase of the plan, The Fields at RFK, opened in 2019.

The last element of plan has not yet been finalized. Events DC has discussed three potential “anchor facility” scenarios: a 20,000-seat arena, a National Football League stadium, or an open-air multi-purpose space.

“I consider it a down payment on what’s next for the campus,” Bowser said. To truly reimagine and reactivate the space, Bowser said, the federal government would have to transfer RFK to the District.

“We have proven many times that the District can make better use of underused federal land and put it to productive use,” Bowser argued, pointing to Walter Reed, Franklin Park and The Wharf as examples.

“We’re also talking about Congress’s need to make sure that we have control of the land and the ability to use our local dollars to transform that lot,” Bowser continued. “The discussion about what will happen on the site is a local discussion.”

Hill East redevelopment. The rear of Park Kennedy, phase 1 of development, is to the left; RFK is to center. Phase II of development will happen in the 67-acres of green field in the foreground of the highway. E.O’Gorek/CCN

NFL

Bowser would not close the door on the possibility of an NFL Stadium at RFK, but indicated there are limits. “It’s a very big parcel and it will allow for a lot of development,” Bowser said.

Bowser was asked if she would enter a bidding war to bring the Washington football team back to the District. “I think there’s a lot of interest around the city in having our team back,” Bowser said. “But not at any price.”

Speaking after the event, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) acknowledged that he and the Mayor had different visions regarding potential NFL use of the site. But, he said, they do agree that the District should make decisions about its future use.

“The federal government has not been a good steward of this land,” Allen said. “However the chips fall, this should be DC’s decision.”

Control

The announcement was as much a nudge to Congress as an announcement of the direction for the property.

“[NPS] simply aren’t funded in a way that they can make the types of investments that we can make here at RFK,” Bowser said.

When The Fields opened in 2019, Events DC President Gregory O’Dell said the city would not pursue further redevelopment plans without securing control of the property, whether that be a long-term extension of the lease or control over the property. (O’Dell is set to step down in April).

Control has not yet been secured, although Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D) has been working to secure a land transfer for years. “It continues,” said Bowser of that work.

Infrastructure Investment

The campus requires hundreds of millions in infrastructure work, Bowser said, adding she is unwilling to put forward that kind of public money without some assurance there would be a return on the investment.

That might seem contradictory– the proposed projected indoor recreation facility would be located on the campus grounds. But, Bowser said, this is different; DC is willing to put tens of millions of dollars into infrastructure work for the sports complex.

Hunter said that $3 million is allocated for planning in 2026; construction and capital funding are to follow in 2027.

By that time, Bowser said, the terms of a transfer of ownership could be worked out. “This is one step that I think DC residents and taxpayers are very excited to make a down payment on.”

The property adjacent Stadium-Armory Metro Station is nearing completion. It is expected to provide 100 units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) and over 12,000 square feet of retail space. E.O’Gorek/CCN

Hill East Phase II

Plans for RFK Campus were presented as a compliment to work already underway at Reservation 13, the parcel of land between RFK Stadium, the Park Kennedy apartments, and the Anacostia River.

67 acres are slated for development in phase two of the Hill East redevelopment plan Kevin. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) John Falcicchio said that two development teams have been selected. Once negotiations have concluded, those packages will be sent to DC Council for their approval.

After that, the District will begin the 79 million infrastructure work needed prior to construction. That work alone is expected to take several years.

It’s a multi-year project, Falcicchio added, but buildings could begin to rise in the next four years or so, he said. Final plans are expected to include more than 2300 residential units.

Residential affordability is expected to be split in thirds between those earning an income of 60 percent of AMI or below; so-called “workforce development housing“ at 120 percent AMI or lower; and a third at market rate.

DC DOC Director Tom Faust. E.O’Gorek/CCN

DC Jail

Bowser also announced $251 million in funding for a DC Jail, also located on the Hill East site. The first phase will be an annex to added the District’s Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF). The annex will be built near the current Central Detention Facility (CDF) and is expected to provide additional space for education, vocational training, and rehabilitation of inmates.

The plan calls for all services to be provided at the CDF, while the Central Treatment Facility (CTF) is improved and expanded with a new annex that is to provide additional space for educational and vocational programs.

After the annex is complete, the CDF will be phased out and demolished and the CTF will be the District’s new jail. The plan also includes additional capital investments of $25 million to maintain safe, secure, and humane conditions for residents at the CDF until the CTF annex is completed.   

Planning and programming are slated to begin in 2023 and planning and construction in 2026. Director of DC Department of Corrections (DOC) Thomas Faust said the plans follow very closely recommendations made by the District Task Force on Jails and Justice.

“We’re moving to a single-facility solution for corrections here in the District, which follows those recommendations closely,” he said, calling it “very transformative,” and noting DC DOC is moving towards a smaller footprint overall for the corrections system.