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North-South axis site concept with a stadium

Monday night at Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Events DC unveiled site plans for a redeveloped Robert F. Kennedy Stadium site before a packed room of several hundred people. The meeting was the first public forum, and it sought feedback and direction for which path the city should pursue in replacing the 55-year-old stadium.

Here are four things we learned:

1. The focus is on the short term.

For all of the talk about the NFL team looking to build a new stadium there (and the mayor supporting the idea), Events DC board member Max Brown tried to set expectations on the near term. “We want to focus on the things we can do right now in the next two-to-five years,” Brown says. “We want to activate this site for future generations.” That means having a direction even if some of the larger points, like whether the city should foot the bill for a new stadium or arena, are very much undecided.

D.C. United’s stadium will be ready after the 2017 season and the bulldozers can finally begin tearing down RFK. Even stadium opponents, like Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, support moving ahead with a plan for the property. “We have to do something,” Allen told the crowd, warning against letting the land sit idle for another decade.

2. It’s a flexible plan, if you like sports.

There are really three options (stadium as anchor, arena as anchor, and some kind of cultural attraction as anchor) with two different street plans. All plans include converting the parking lots, which currently cover 41 percent of the area at the site, into various kinds of public amenities, including playing fields, swimming pools, and outdoor space. Jason Long, from the architecture firm OMA, also detailed plans for Kingman Island, including an amphitheater. “This has a chance to be a civic place for D.C., but also provide amenities for residents,” Long emphasized, using examples like the High Line, Chelsea Piers, and Central Park as references for the crowd. There are lots of beach renderings on the banks of the Anacostia (for when the river is again safe to swim in, presumably.)

After that, though, the details are spare. A water park? Aquarium? Museum? Those are just shapes on a map without any specific plan in place.

The details of the street plans, however, are interesting. The first, a so-called North-South axis plan, would concentrate most of the buildings and parking in the center of the land, where RFK is now. As a result, planners would extend the historic L’Enfant grid to the river, eliminating the multi-lane connections from East Capitol Street to both C Street and Independence Avenue. That plan, which might reduce morning and evening commute traffic, could be interesting to Ward 6 and 7 residents opposed to any stadium.

3. There is no housing component to the site plan.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is fond of saying two things—1) the city needs to redevelop RFK and 2) the District will have 800,000 people in 20 years—but hasn’t linked those concepts. Notably, OMA was not tasked with developing a plan with housing in it, and there was no housing included in Monday’s presentation. Perhaps it was the inevitable result of putting Events DC, the quasi-public sports stadium management and events arm of the city, in charge of the study. After all, they look at this land as an opportunity to build soaring edifices that could possibly be used in an Olympic bid or to house professional sporting teams or to host concerts. “International stakeholders” were mentioned multiple times, indicating that there was a fair amount of thought put into how this development would be seen far outside D.C.

Meanwhile Kingman Park, the neighborhood just north of the stadium, has seen average home prices rise from $288,000 to $474,000 in just five years, according to Zillow. The National Capital Planning Commission—ultimately tasked with approving uses for federal land in the District—envisioned housing on the site as recently as a 2006 study of what to do after the end of the stadium’s life. At 191 acres, you could build something as large as the planned Walter Reed mixed-use development on the land and still have two-thirds left over for recreational space and public facilities. In a city running out of land, the omission of a housing component was glaring and many in the room mentioned it.

4. The questions were fascinating.

Beware asking the general public what they think, for you will surely get an answer, sometimes in the most hilarious ways. Breakout sessions with the public produced all of these questions: Will there be a velodrome? Is there enough parking? Is there too much parking? Is there a long-range plan for another bridge across the Anacostia? Will there be beaches on both sides of the river? Can we add another Metro stop? An extension to the streetcar? Can we sell the Zoo and move it here? What do you mean by “market?” Will there be local retail and not just chains?

An interested Mayor Bowser quietly slipped in after the meeting had begun, dressed casually in a grey track suit and a Nationals cap (it was Opening Day, after all). She worked some of the room but also listened in on the discussions. If one of the meeting’s goals was to provide her with some guidance about what type of site plan the city should pursue, it’s unclear whether it was achieved. Future meetings have not been scheduled.

Images courtesy of Events DC/OMA

North-South axis concept with arena as anchor of campus
North-South axis concept with arena as anchor of campus