By Charles Boehm
The Washington Post reported on Friday that District of Columbia Mayor Vince Gray, his staff and a number of their political allies are mounting a serious effort to bring the Washington Redskins back to the District, with a plan to help the wealthy but underachieving NFL franchise build a new training facility and headquarters just south of RFK Stadium in Southeast D.C.
The chances of the scheme’s success remain highly unclear, but it nonetheless leaves D.C. United in an uncomfortable position as the Major League Soccer club perseveres in its pursuit of a new, soccer-specific stadium in the District while city officials are apparently focusing their energy and attention on the Redskins.
“D.C. officials say they have identified a parcel for the team facilities and are in talks with the Redskins about relocating from a training center in Virginia. Still, there is no agreement, and leaders in surrounding neighborhoods worry that a football facility would scuttle development plans in place for nearly a decade,” wrote Post reporters Mike DeBonis and Jonathan O’Connell.
“But placing a football facility on that land would represent a significant departure from a master development plan approved by the D.C. Council in 2002. That plan reserves the portion in question for ‘city-wide uses and services, including health care, recreation and education.’”
The Redskins are now based about an hour west of the city in Loudoun County, Va. but play their home games at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and have apparently grown frustrated with Redskins Park, their 20-year-old practice facility.
District officials are hopeful that moving the team’s headquarters back to the city would lay the groundwork for a massive new stadium on or near the site of RFK, which was the setting for their glory years in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The team’s lease at FedEx, which opened in 1997, runs until 2027.
United have been based at RFK since their founding in 1996 and are desperate to stay in the District despite long-running interest from Baltimore. For years the Black-and-Red have sought an 18,000-27,000-seat stadium of their own, most likely in an underdeveloped area of the city like Poplar Point, Buzzard’s Point or the Florida Ave. international market where the project could anchor new housing and mixed-use development.
Soccer supporters contend that such a project would add more to the city’s tax base and quality of life than an NFL practice facility, but the details of such a comparison remain hazy.
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, who represents the Ward 6 area which encompasses the land parcel in question, strongly criticized the Redskins training facility plan via his Twitter feed on Friday, noting the city’s corresponding lack of responsiveness to United, who are losing substantial amounts of money every year at RFK, a 51-year-old bowl which has decayed noticeably over the past decade.
“Frankly it’s insulting to the city for us to give up valuable land for [the Redskins] to practice to play in MD,” tweeted Wells, who also alluded to the NFL team’s “racist” mascot. “Even worse if we rebuild RFK too. Then [the Anacostia] riverfront is consigned to 30 acres of practice fields AND the rest is a parking lot.
“What is the city willing to do to keep DC United in DC? So far nothing.”
His fellow council member Jack Evans, who is a central player in the city’s conversations with the Redskins as well as United, later told DeBonis that moving forward on the football facility would have no impact on helping the soccer club find a home of their own, which he stated could be built for less than $100 million.
But with city leadership apparently fixated on the Redskins, it’s hard to see exactly where the eventual fallout will leave United – and the club’s prominent place in the region’s soccer scene.