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Neighbors Weigh in on NFL at RFK

A group of neighbors is conducting a study on what neighbors want to see at RFK Campus. You can respond online by Oct. 10 at www.rfkfuture.org The RFK Future Task Force hopes to meet with Mayor Muriel Bowser to present their findings and discuss the community’s vision with her. 

In late July, the Hill Rag did an informal poll of readers. We received more than 60 responses to our request for feedback on the potential for an NFL stadium. We asked residents of the Hill and surrounding area for their views via community list servs and social media sites. 

Most of them –nearly half– fell in the category of “definitely not.” The bulk of those came from people living very near to the site.  

Many were categorically opposed to the use of the land for a football stadium, citing the fact that the team will only host 8 or 9 regular season games. “Fuck an NFL stadium there,” wrote Steve Beam in one particularly concise post that questioned the wisdom of the decision. “Using taxpayer money for giant tailgating parking lots and a stadium that’s used a dozen times a year? For a sport that is known to cause terrible lasting degenerative brain trauma? When we can’t fund schools?” he questioned.  

“Build housing. Parks. Literally anything else,” Beam finished. 

Some pointed to recent trouble around other events, notably the annual April GLOW festival at RFK. In 2022, weather amplified the EDM festival at RFK Stadium, prompting noise complaints from as far away as Maryland.  

Former ANC Commissioner Francis Campbell has lived in Hill East his entire life and is categorically opposed to a stadium. He says there are far too many problems with the site. The city should focus on fulfilling promises made about developing nearby Reservation 13, he said.  

There are so many challenges that remain to be addressed, Campbell argued. “No one has the money to develop the site, it isn’t zoned; of the 199 acres of land, 100 [are] on a federal flood plain which means no insurance.”

Campbell says the city is following the newest, shiniest thing rather than following through on what the community wants, pointing out that little has happened with Reservation 13 development for the past 20 years. “Yes, I’m angry and wondering why they’re hell bent on RFK when we see how much they HAVEN’T done with their own back yard,” he said. 

Resident Mary Karimi agreed. “That area needs to be limited development that benefits the residents here which the chaos of a national sports team would not!  It is not a commercial corridor which would support a huge sports venue,” she wrote. 

Karimi applauded Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D), who has long opposed an NFL stadium on the site, going so far as to start a petition against the idea in December 2018.

Reached just after the sale of the Commanders, Allen said he welcomed the end of Dan Snyder’s ownership and the focus on rebuilding with new owners under Josh Harris. But he said in a statement, dedicating a massive piece of land and millions of tax dollars to a new NFL stadium is a bad deal for the District.

“These types of stadiums are shown to waste public money and be bad economic investments for taxpayers,” he said. “Instead of a stadium to be used eight days a year, I’d rather our city build housing, parks, retail, and jobs that will benefit the District of Columbia every day of the year.”

RFK Stadium in 2020. File Photo/CCN

Not All Opposed 

Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray (D) represents the area. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but has expressed support for the NFL at the site in the past.

Many of the residents he represents object to the stadium –but not all. Somewhere near thirty percent of responses supported a return of the NFL to RFK. Interestingly, most of those responses came via direct messages rather than public posts. 

Nicole Scott has a football podcast called “A League of My Own.” She says it’s time DC gets the football team back in the District. Football, she says, is a unique part of American culture, “the biggest of the big,” and having the District’s team in the city will once again link the team and DC culture in that narrative. 

Fourth generation DC Native Deborrah said she wants the team back. “They were here before all these new people moved here and they deserve to come back,” she wrote. “I’m tired of people using the guise of needing more housing. It won’t be affordable for natives like me, so no, we don’t [want it].”  

Others said that sporting events are a family activity. “We go to baseball, soccer and basketball games,” wrote one. “Unfortunately, FedEx field is so inconvenient we aren’t able to go to football games. Would be great to have that as part of DC.”

Interior in 2021. Many DC residents have pleasant memories of events at RFK Stadium.

The rest of respondents were split. Many said they objected to a stadium, but could be convinced. “I’d like NO stadium,” wrote one respondent. “BUT, if they build one with no parking (or the bare minimum) and fill in the rest with housing, retail and parks, I guess I’d still consider it a win.”  

Many others offered similar conditional support, leavened with serious doubt about the ability of the DC government to manage the project. 

Eric wrote that he was “a big fat no,” to an NFL stadium. But he acknowledged that DC residents of neighborhoods living further from RFK Campus might feel differently.  

He would support a stadium “done well” he said, if he knew that the alternative would be “another two decades of a nothing sandwich around RFK.” Done well, there would be no ‘luxury’ condos, he said. The stadium would incorporate mixed use development. It would also, “for the love of all that’s holy,” feature, rather than hide, the river.  

“My concern is this city and its leaders have a pretty long track record of screwing things up,” he said, allowing that Navy Yard and the Wharf could be considered exceptions. 

Others offered begrudging support if the city would not foot the bill together with extreme skepticism that would happen. 

“If the city wants to charge a metric ton for the space, give zero tax breaks, and contribute zero taxpayer dollars –then the Commanders should knock themselves out,” wrote Matilda. “But I suspect the plan is to use limited DC funds not to build housing, fix WMATA’s deficit or keep our communities safe, but to build a stadium that’s used maybe a dozen times a year.” 

The East Capitol Bridge in the foreground of the RFK Stadium Masterplan Long Term Development Vision [Detail], OMA. Rendering by Robota. Image: Courtesy Events DC
“What Does it Matter What We Think?” 

But many residents say it really doesn’t matter what they think. The fix is in, they say. The city will do whatever they want. 

I say it doesn’t matter what we think, and it never has,” wrote Tony K. “If the city and the NFL are convinced this is the most profitable route, it will happen. Doesn’t mean people shouldn’t voice their opinion, but they should manage their expectations. If they do build a new stadium at RFK, it won’t be as good or as bad as most people think. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this momentum was the planned result of the redistricting of Ward 6 – because before Allen was anti stadium and Gray was all the way pro,” said long-term Hill East resident Rochelle Woodard.  “Now Allen can still save face and be anti stadium – or even silent – and Gray and ward 7 will get what they’ve ALWAYS wanted… meanwhile this side of Ward 7 gets screwed. 

Woodard pointed out that the community has been in discussion about what they want to in the area since 2010, “and Bowser has conveniently ignored it.” Her worry is that the stadium will be presented as part of wider mixed-use development that will never come. That was the case with Nationals Stadium, where Events DC promised to develop retail and commercial space as part of the original agreement. In an effort to push the team to build, DC threatened to withhold the stadium occupancy permits last year.  

“You’ll see – if we get a permanent BIGGER stadium, the neighborhood will be the seat of a lot of crap. and an inaccessible space – because they certainly will take their time building the surrounding “mixed use” things once the stadium is built,” Woodard said, predicting DC would promise outdoor amenities and shops but wait for the stadium to make money fund another wave of construction.  

“This is not good,” she finished. 

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