A redevelopment proposal for the RFK Stadium/D.C. Armory site in Southeast includes youth soccer and baseball fields, a farmer’s market, a 10,000-square-foot memorial to Robert F. Kennedy, access to the east side of Anacostia and a state-of-the-art complex that provides a mix of amateur sports, fitness and entertainment, along with a picnic area and playground.
In the long term, it could also house a new facility for both the Washington Wizards and Capitals and it could also turn into a modern football stadium to woo back the beloved Redskins.
Perhaps most important, and more immediate, it could mean 1,380 construction jobs, $4.5 million in annual tax revenues, 540 permanent jobs and a 30-year tax revenue of $112 million.
“We had a meeting on Jan. 5 to roll out some of the short-term elements that we’ve heard feedback from the community and it was very positive,” said Greg O’Dell, president and CEO of DC Events, the convention and sports authority for the District. “The next step is to get more feedback and we will start the process to see what’s needed to move forward. We will keep in touch with the community.”
O’Dell said though the primary focus is on shorter-term development, that doesn’t mean a longer-term project couldn’t include an arena for the Wizards and Capitals or a stadium for a possible Redskins return to the District.
“We also wanted to push for three new pedestrian bridges right now to better access the site,” O’Dell said. “And, recognizing that if we do tear down the stadium we need something fitting for a RFK memorial, a true and robust memorial in his honor,” he said.
Some residents argue that housing remains missing from the development.
“If we’re going to go to Congress to seek authority to do this, then we go to Congress at the same time and say we need more housing,” Denise Rucker Krepp, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who lives along the western edge of the RFK site, told WAMU. “People cannot afford to pay close to a million dollars for a middle-class home. We need affordable housing.”
Residents who offered feedback on the proposal said the city continues to grow with the expectation of adding 300,000 residents through 2045.
“D.C. does have a housing issue, and there’s no reason we should just ignore the idea of using this piece of land to alleviate, in some way, that crisis,” said Jonathan Nicholson, who lives at 19th Street and Constitution Avenue NE.
Officials with Events D.C. say their proposal for the RFK site reflects the practical realities they face: The land is owned by the National Park Service, and it’s operated by the city under a lease that expires in 2036. The lease limits the use of the land to stadiums, recreational facilities and open space.
“Housing is not part of the short term, in part because of the restrictions we have in our lease,” O’Dell said. “It’s not to say that in the long term that if someone decides they want housing, it can’t be discussed. It’s just that the short term doesn’t contemplate housing, but we can revisit it.”
While it could be a great project and a “feather in the city’s cap,” Rochelle F. Gray of the Eastland Gardens Civic Association said this week that she’s concerned that the scope of work has little to no commitment to the other residents of Ward 7.
“I have spoken with others about this, such as Max Brown [of DC Events],” Gray said. “I proposed that they consider such a project as the 11th Street Bridge Park project for construction along the East Capitol Street Bridge. This would allow more residents from far Northeast to walk or bike across the Anacostia. If I lived in Fort Dupont or Central Northeast, how would I get there other than by a bus or car? If so, are they providing ample, convenient and safe parking space for residents?
“In addition, I do not want to see another ‘foo-foo’ market, like Union Market which once was a market frequented by many for greens, fish, and everything and now only geared to the elite, take up residence in RFK,” she said. “If we had plentiful food options in far Ward 7, this would be less of an issue.”
Graylin W. Presbury, the president of the Fairlawn Citizens Association and the president of the DC Federation of Civic Associations, said he’s lived in the same place for the past 30 years and he rarely goes near the RFK Stadium Armory Campus, but when he does, it’s usually on his bicycle along the riverfront and Congressional Cemetery.
Still, he said, the voices of all residents should be heard on the project.
“We should have a say, or at least an opportunity to express our concerns about the proposed development that will affect our way of and quality of life,” Presbury said.
O’Dell said residents are having a say and promised more meetings with the community.
The District has fought for federal land in the past. According to WAMU, in late 2015, the city paid $22.5 million for 66 acres of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus in northwest D.C. — a process that started in 2006, years before the campus was shuttered as part of the nationwide base-closing process.
When fully developed, the site will include 2,100 housing units, as well as retail and office space.
The idea of bringing housing to the RFK site wouldn’t be radical. In 2006, the National Capital Planning Commission published a redevelopment study for the site where it recommended “mixed-use development on the RFK site, including residential and neighborhood retail uses.”
The study specifically said any housing on the RFK site would complement a planned mixed-use development on Reservation 13, a parcel of land just south of RFK that currently includes the D.C. General homeless shelter and D.C. Jail. Construction on a first phase of the parcel — which will have 344 units of housing — was scheduled to begin late last year.
Events DC’s proposal is the culmination of nine months of studying the site and gathering input on its future potential, and it comes two years before RFK Stadium — which opened in 1961 — loses its last tenant, D.C. United.
For Michael Stevens, a Ward 6 resident who runs the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, housing would help energize a site that would otherwise be used for sports and recreation.
“We think it helps integrate the community or the uses better to the Capitol Hill community,” Stevens said. “We think it brings warm bodies to animate some of the uses like a proposed market.”