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Over the course of two years, the District’s sports and entertainment authority, Events DC, used taxpayer money to pay a firm to lobby Congress for control of the land around the empty Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, the former home of Washington’s professional football team.
According to federal lobbying disclosure reports, Events DC paid the firm Squire Patton Boggs a total of $150,000 from July of 2017 through September 2018.
The reports show that those lobbying efforts focused on extending the District’s lease on the RFK campus for an additional 50 years, and cite a bill introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton that would have facilitated that extension. The bill never made it out of committee.
The District’s current lease for the federally owned land expires in 2038, which is problematic for any long-term redevelopment plans, says Events DC’s president and CEO Greg O’Dell, who spoke with LL over the phone. The lease also requires the land be used for a stadium or public recreational facilities.
For some close to this land, though, Events DC’s lobbying efforts raise concerns about efficient use of taxpayer money and about plans for the RFK site. Events DC is funded in part by a tax on hotels and restaurants.
“It does beg a bigger question of ‘Why is Events DC the entity that would be lobbying for the RFK campus if there’s no determination about what we want to do with that site,’” Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen says. “In every conversation I’ve been a part of, those community and neighborhood meetings, the conversation has always been: There’s no determination as it pertains to a stadium.”
Allen has spoken against the construction of a new NFL stadium at the RFK site and has advocated for at least some of the land to be used for more housing.
Denise Krepp, a neighborhood commissioner in the area near the RFK site, shares Allen’s concerns and worries that Events DC’s lobbying effort could indicate another push to bring the local NFL team back into the District.
“We need housing, we need retail, and we do not need to be spending money on the Redskins,” Krepp says. “It’s frustrating that we’re spending precious dollars that we have lobbying to bring them back.”
O’Dell says Events DC’s discussions with members of Congress were focused solely on gaining long-term control of the land. He says the stadium eventually will be demolished and insists that the sports authority does not have a preference for its replacement.
Last August, city officials and Events DC released a $489 million plan to redevelop the site, which includes a new NFL stadium as one of the three options to replace RFK Stadium. They’re also considering a basketball and hockey arena or adding more green space for recreational sports. Shortly after that announcement, Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed her support for bringing the the local NFL team back to D.C. at a luncheon for the team.
Last December, just months after Events DC’s lobbying ended, the Washington Post reported that a Bowser aide and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans were working with congressional Republicans to clear the way for construction of a new football stadium by inserting a provision into a massive federal spending bill. Those efforts ultimately failed.
Allen questions whether Events DC’s lobbying is related to Bowser and Evans’ work with Congress. O’Dell denies that charge.
“Unequivocally not,” he says. “I want to be clear, I think the mayor is acting in good faith. But what we were doing was not part of the mayor’s efforts.”
O’Dell also defended the decision to hire a lobbying firm.
“I think we’re making the right investment,” he says. “I don’t have any personal experience on the Hill, nor do we have the experience in-house. I think it was prudent dollars to be spent to help us move the development forward.”
O’Dell says he attended most of the meetings on the Hill, which targeted bipartisan members of the federal lands subcommittee that was at the time chaired by Republican Rep. Tom McClintock.
He says that he and his team informed members of Congress of Events DC’s short- and long-term plans for the site. The initial phase, 27 acres of turf fields that replaced a parking lot wasteland, opened to the public last weekend. An indoor recreational sports facility and food market are also in the works, O’Dell says.
In March, Norton introduced another bill to sell the whole 190-acre campus to the District, which would eliminate the restrictions on the land’s use. O’Dell says Events DC has no plans to hire another lobbying firm to work on the bill.
“If [the land] is transferred, then we welcome that, and will work in concert with the mayor for her vision for that,” O’Dell says.