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Whatever the future of the RFK campus (whether it includes a new football stadium, apartments, an indoor recreation center, or all of the above) one thing is clear: the old stadium has to come down. And there’s no clear timeline for when that might happen.
Mayor Muriel Bowser is amping up her pitch that the District deserves control of the 190-acre, federally owned property in the past few months, proposing a $60 million indoor sports complex for the site in her new budget and dropping hints that she’s still interested in bringing the Washington Commanders back there—points she re-emphasized in a press conference Monday. But none of those grand plans are possible unless the city can realize its plans to tear down the 60-year-old structure, and the effort has gotten stuck in a bit of a bureaucratic mess.
Bowser proclaimed with some fanfare in the fall of 2019 that RFK would be a thing of the past by 2021. When the pandemic struck a few months later, her administration admitted that 2022 was a more likely target for the demolition. And it seems that date has slipped again, due to a cascading series of issues over at the entity that manages the stadium: Events DC
If work started tomorrow, the demolition process would take about two years to complete, according to John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff and an Events DC board member via his role as deputy mayor for planning and economic development. That means the absolute soonest the stadium could come down is 2024, and time is of the essence for Bowser in this process: She wants to start work on that new rec center by 2026. Dan Snyder has made it no secret, too, that he wants to be out of FedEx Field by 2027, the last year the team is legally obligated to play in Landover. Plus, the District has to pay up to $3.5 million in maintenance costs every year just to keep the stadium standing (and keep it as raccoon-free as possible).
But there is no demolition start date on the horizon because Events DC, which manages the city’s sports stadiums and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, has yet to finalize a contract with private companies to actually perform the work. The agency awarded a deal to Gilbane Building Co. (a frequent partner on D.C.-backed projects) back in September 2020, but ultimately rescinded that contract after facing a pair of protests from two of the losing bidders. Events DC re-started the search process in December 2020 after making adjustments to its request for proposals, but there’s not been much public movement on the issue since.
Falcicchio says the agency has picked a winner once more (though he did not name the lucky company), but it still needs to “finalize the contract.” A spokeswoman for the agency confirms his version of events, adding that another firm, Smoot Construction, has received permission to “begin very preliminary work to kickstart the regulatory process” and prepare the site for demolition.
Another issue is how the District is actually going to pay for the demolition. Bowser told reporters Monday that Events DC “put it off because of the pandemic,” and Falcicchio described it as a matter of rearranging the agency’s capital budget, reserved for big construction projects like this one. Generally, Events DC depends on money from conventions and a tax on hotel stays to fund its operations. Those revenue streams still haven’t recovered from the pandemic’s disruptions, so there’s no telling when the agency will have all the funding it needs for the project.
However, Falcicchio says the city has been “beating estimates” in seeing some of those revenues rebound, so he’s optimistic that the budget won’t be an obstacle for long. But this much is clear: It’s going to take years before Bowser can tear the stadium down and declare that she’s made progress on resolving one of the city’s thorniest property disputes.
And that matters for more than just Bowser’s political prospects. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has persistently run into issues convincing her fellow lawmakers in Congress to sell the campus to the District, generally because they’re hesitant to do anything that might redound to Snyder’s benefit. Bowser has attempted to counter that narrative by showing what the city can do with the campus if it takes control, proposing a connection to the ongoing Hill East redevelopment nearby and sketching out plans for all manner of other community amenities on the site (including the rec center and new connections to the Kingman and Heritage islands).
A rusting hulk of a stadium lingering on the property makes it that much harder to provide a blank canvass to showcase to a skeptical Congress. So, how is the lobbying process going these days?
“It continues,” Bowser said Monday.