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Will the next mayor build a new football stadium?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

There's a lot of popular support inside DC for having the Washington NFL team play its games in the District instead of Landover, Maryland. But at what cost, and is that worth it?

Photo by Aaron G Stock on Flickr.

Mayor Vincent Gray thinks so. He said,

I think it's got economic development potential. We've seen it with the baseball stadium. There were those who were very skeptical about whether the baseball stadium would have any catalytic effect at all. ... We can see what's happening there and I think the stadium and the team both are a factor in that.

And then I think it's something as straightforward as civic spirit.

There are people who believe our Washington team contribute to the psychic health—especially when they win—of the city. And all these years later, the team has been gone now 16, 17 years maybe longer, but I hear people constantly, constantly say to me, "Hey Mayor, when are we going to get the Washington football team back in to the city?"
Gray also believes locating the stadium in the city would lead to more players living in the city, as he said has happened with the Wizards and Capitals: "Far more of those players live in the city than would otherwise be the case if they were practicing outside the District of Columbia," he said.

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 councilmember who is also running for mayor, talked about his vision to rebuild RFK stadium as a new, 75,000-seat retractable-roof stadium.

When you mention the football team, people want the team back in the city. And even people in the suburbs want the team back in the city. ... What is a good location for it? Obviously the RFK site makes the most sense ... keeping in mind that it is federal land. ... The law states the only thing that can be constructed on that land is a stadium.
I pointed out that, in fact, the law simply says it should serve a recreational use, not necessarily professional football, but Evans still favors a football stadium.
In the metropolitan region, that is the best site for a football stadium, barring none, because of the transportation. You have the subway right on site, and a bunch of access roads. When then Nationals were playing at that stadium when the Yankees came to town, and we sold out 50-some thousand people at that stadium. We were able to get people in and out very quickly. That's the model you would use for a 75,000-seat stadium: The access, the location, there's so much benefit there. One could argue you could use it for something different, but if you're going to put a stadium in the metropolitan area, that's where you would put it.
Evans also said that the stadium would bring in development, "like we're seeing around Nationals Stadium or over at the Verizon Center." He called the idea a "big economic driver."

Meanwhile, Ward 6 council candidate Charles Allen doesn't think a stadium is the best use of the RFK site (which immediately abuts Ward 6):

I think building a stadium for 8 days out of the year is a bad idea. When you look at that site right now, it's an ocean of asphalt.

There's an amazing proposal called the Capital Riverside Youth Sports Park. We need to have more green space. I want to rip up all that asphalt and replace it with this concept, and have it run all the way to the Anacostia.

It's also an environmental justice issue. Every time we have a storm, every time we pile up snow and call it Mount Fenty, we have a devastating impact on the Anacostia River.

Sketch of proposed Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park. Image from CRYSP.

Allen's opponent, Darrel Thompson, would like to bring the team back to DC, but not at the RFK site. "RFK is not the best site," he said. "We should find another location. ... You've got an awful lot of residents that don't want to see that. We have to make sure we've been listening to the residents."

But, I asked, any potential site would likely have residents opposed. Is it realistic to say the team should come back to the District but not at RFK because residents don't want it there. "We've got to look at all the different options," he responded.

At-large DC Council candidates John Settles and Pedro Rubio would like to see alternate uses for the site, possibly including housing. Settles said, "I look at RFK, and I see too much opportunity. I'd like to redevelop that. It could be a great mixed-use village that has everything from housing to entertainment space to fields to green space."

Rubio said, "As much as I want the Redskins to play in DC, with the traffic that comes with it, the space that's needed for affordable housing, I like them where they are right now. We can use the space for affordable housing, for nonprofits, colleges and schools."

Brianne Nadeau, who is running for council in Ward 1, isn't totally opposed to a stadium deal, but doesn't see it as very realistic to find a deal that's actually good for DC.

I don't think we have a football team owner that's particularly amenable to working with the District in a way that we would benefit. If that changes, I would rethink that. The other thing is with a football team, they take up a lot of space. There's so much parking lot area. ... I think we would have to be creative if we were ever going to do [a stadium]. How do we use it for the other 8 months of the year, and make sure it's the best use of space?
Her opponent, incumbent councilmember Jim Graham, would wait and see if there is every a real proposal. He said, "Dreaming is very important. I think people should continue to have [dreams]. ... When there's something there to hold onto, let's talk about it. There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip in that regard."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Vincent Gray:

Jack Evans:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Brianne Nadeau:

Jim Graham:

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

RFK is huge, they could build a stadium with more sensible parking configurations that can also be used for other activities off season AND other atheletic/recreational facilities on the site.

by BTA on Mar 25, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

News Flash, Vincent Gray! The Caps practice at Kettler Ice Complex in Ballston, VA, and most of the players live in Northern Virginia.

More importantly, Gray's thinking defies logic. First, so long as the Redskins continue to practice in Ashburn, VA, that is where the bulk of the players are going to live. I suspect that no player lives in PG County today, event though that is where FedEx Field is. Players in all sports are going to congregate where they have to be the most, and that is usually the practice facility.

Second, it makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to encourage the 50 or so Washington Redskin players to live in the District (which, of course won't happen so long as they continue to practice in Ashburn, VA). Gray, like his buddy Jack Evans, wants to build a monument to himself, even though it makes absolutely no economic sense.

by Gumpper on Mar 25, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport



by Adam L on Mar 25, 2014 12:07 pm • linkreport

I believe football stadiums belong in the suburbs because they are completely dormant aside from 8 or 9 football games, a concert here and there and a few other assorted oddities. Probably 300 days a year at least it just sits there dead, surrounded by an ocean of parking ill-suited for an urban context. The only way I would support a stadium there is if it drastically reduced surface parking and incorporated other mixed-use buildings, or at least garages with liner space. But still, football with it's culture of tailgating is better off in the burbs.

by Gee on Mar 25, 2014 12:09 pm • linkreport

We don't need a stadium there. This is prime real estate with the Metro, the Anacostia River waterfront, and great bike access via the Anacostia Riverwalk trail.

The Youth Sports facilities is far and away the best idea. Sport is big positive influence on youth and this could accommodate the city's needs perfectly in that area.

by Tom on Mar 25, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

Dear Politicians:

Considering the minimum of a billion dollars to finance, provide the infrastructure for, and build a stadium, couldn't we build a a world class neighborhood instead at RFK?

That said, if anyone wants to take on the closing Pepco coal plant just north of RFK, which would involve site remediation, have at it if they eat those costs.

by Randall M. on Mar 25, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

@Adam L @gumpper

+ (infinity ^ infinity)

The Patriots play in Foxborough
The Giants in East Rutherford
The Dolphins in Miami Gardens
The Cowboys in Arlington

We're not exactly alone in having the stadium in the 'Burbs.

True, others play within city limits, fewer within downtown cores, but what are the neighborhoods around them like? Are most of these livable, walkable communities (cough North Shore and Jacksonville)?

This is a worse idea - much worse - than the DC United scheme.

I'm interested to learn more about Allen's plan and whether or not Settles' would be mutually exclusive with it.

by PotomacAveres on Mar 25, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

I love the park idea as well. I'd love to see at least part of the area devoted to providing opportunities for youth sports, but we should definitely try to backfill the actual stadium land and current parking lots with mixed use developments. It's such prime real estate - it would be a shame for it to go to waste on a stadium that is only used 8 times a year.

by HH on Mar 25, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

Let's do some quick math here:
FedEx Field & Parking sits on >0.5 square km of land (140 acres)
DC has 261,000 households on 158.1 square km of land (1650/sqkm)
Median household income in DC is $64,000.

So if instead of building a stadium and parking, we turned that 0.5 square km into housing at DC's average household density, which was filled with households making DC's median household income, that's $53 million in income added per year. That's the same as 28 NFL players moving into DC at the average NFL salary.

But you'd actually need even more players to move - because unlike regular people, NFL player salaries are allocated according to where they practice and play and for how many days. So a bunch of that income and hence tax is siphoned off by NJ, Texas, Philly, and the other places the players will be throughout the season. The players would only play half their games in DC, and the practice facility is in VA. So even if the whole team moved into the District it wouldn't make up as much difference as those 800-900 regular households would.

And I don't really see the pride difference in the team playing in DC vs 2.5 miles over the border. The value of the team to the area is contingent on it existing somewhere around here, not directly within the city.

by MLD on Mar 25, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

Money would be far better spent on youth football (and baseball) programs.

by charlie on Mar 25, 2014 12:41 pm • linkreport

RFK would be a lovely location for tall buildings. It reinforces the main axis of the city, but it's far from the mall. With some surrounding buildings and a nice park buffer to the north, and it could be quite nice.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 25, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

These quotes really do show how patently unqualified Vince Gray is to be the mayor, or an elected official at all. There is a mountain of evidence showing that professional sports stadiums are a net economic drain, NOT a net benefit. There is no dispute about this, it is verifiable fact. His constant assertion that the city will see economic benefit from a stadium is a flat-out lie, nothing more. And the fact that he sees this as a priority is shameful, foolish, and negligent to the important issues the city is facing. His claim that players will live here is even more laughable, and the last refuge of a scoundrel with no legitimate argument.

The part about civic pride is just sad. If your sense of pride in DC rests on the success, failure or location of a weekend activity for a bunch of out-of-town millionaires that is just embarrassing and pathetic beyond words.

by Joe on Mar 25, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

I sure hope Vincent Gray doesn't expect the new football-playing residents not to complain when suburban churchgoers park them in on Sundays.

by cminus on Mar 25, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

A football stadium in a city makes sense only in a certain context - and that context is basically at the edge of an already existing unalterable border (train tracks, highway) in what would likely otherwise be industrial use.

In other dying cities like Cleveland it does't matter much because there is so much downtown open space that it would be decades before you ever get to the point where you regret the decision.

In Baltimore it mostly works because the stadium is surrounded by freeway and industry. If the stadiums weren't there its unlikely that it would be anything but industry.

DC has very little in the way of industry, particularly that isn't along valuable waterfront.

The real issue for FedEx is that its mostly inaccessible by transit. PRobably should have reworked the orange line to bring it right up by the stadium.

by Tom A on Mar 25, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport


No, the answers shows why they are qualified to be politicians and grossly not qualified to be urban planners, economists, or general business practitioners.

by RJ on Mar 25, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

How come there is no consideration made to having a new stadium, housing, and parks? Perhaps DC could be "revolutionary" (as far as the US is concerned) in building an urban stadium that has little to no parking. I understand tailgating is a core feature of football, but why not use this opportunity to lead the movement towards a more European, soccer-stadium model where the stadiums are often right in the center of neighborhoods? If people were so set on tailgating, you could allow them to park somewhere outside the city and shuttle them in to keep the cars and traffic out of the core. That way you get to create a whole new neighborhood for the majority of the year built around a new stadium used for only a few days.

by Christian on Mar 25, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

@ Neil Flanagan

I like it. Call it La Defense-on-Anacostia.

by Reza on Mar 25, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

Don't you need a change to federal law to build any housing on that property?

by Bill Smith on Mar 25, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

Landover envy.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 25, 2014 2:30 pm • linkreport

Ugg, Please dont move the football stadium into DC...

but if it must, but it in Anacostia. Congress Heights Minnesota Ave or Deanwood

by Richard on Mar 25, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

The idea that a new stadium for the Deadskins makes any sense is just ridiculous. A facility that's used infrequently is not economically viable. The Deadskins have long cultivated a kind of arrogant style of management that makes it difficult for people from out of town to adopt them.

There's really no good location for a new stadium other than RFK, which is federal property and long overdue to be torn down for something else.

Evans has long not had my vote partly because of his support for this. Gray has been an ineffectual manager and seizing on something as ridiculous as this is probably a clear sign that he has no clue how to move DC into the future.

by Rich on Mar 25, 2014 4:37 pm • linkreport

"but if it must, but it in Anacostia. Congress Heights Minnesota Ave or Deanwood"

If they want it, they can have it. Whatever their collective talisman is, great. Maybe it can serve a dual purpose as a park-and-ride lot on off-season Sundays for church-goers.

by Realist on Mar 25, 2014 5:59 pm • linkreport

Notice how they are not talking about relocating the Redskins training field from Ashburn to DC but yet they trying to just the team away from FedEx Stadium back to the city.

Why does this sound like some bitter folx from Alexandria and Arlington that are kicking themselves in the back for defeating a late 80's/early 90's Redskins stadium proposal in Crystal City/Potomac Yards and now they are whispering to the ears of DC politicians to get the Redskins out of FedEx field.

by tom on Mar 25, 2014 6:24 pm • linkreport

Charles Allen for Mayor 2018!

Also, Gummper nailed it. Nicely done.

by David C on Mar 25, 2014 10:39 pm • linkreport

Can't the stadium also hold concerts and other events not during the football season?

by Rain17 on Mar 26, 2014 1:46 am • linkreport

Can't the stadium also hold concerts and other events not during the football season?

It can, but then so can Nats park, whatever the new soccer stadium will be, and RFK. And wolftrap, merriweather,etc.

There are only so many non Football events to go around and they only pay so much to rent a venue. The newer and larger the stadium, typically the higher the fees(to be open) so it might not be attractive for a concert to go for a football stadium.

by Richard on Mar 26, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

no artists want to play to tens of thousands of empty seats, and there aren't that many shows that can draw $70K+

plus they'd compete with Nationals Stadium for such shows. At best a football stadium could be a draw for big events like football friendlies. That's what, 1 or 2 events/year? Maybe a college bowl game. Between NFL preseason, regular season, and playoffs (cue Jim Mora - "PLAYOFFS!?!?#!?"), we're talking a maximum of what 16-18 dates per year.

by anon_1 on Mar 26, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

NFL stadiums are awful for development because they're never used. They're there for 9 or 10 games a year, and then a whole lot of nothing, maybe an occasionally college game or concert.

Nationals Park and Verizone Center both did wonders for development. Why? Nationals Park: 41 days minimum. 4 times an optimistic estimate for a football stadium. Verizon Center: 42 minimum for the Caps, 42 for the Wizards, plus Georgetown, plus the Mystics, plus a far, far higher number of concerts and events then any outdoor stadium could ever attract.

Using a stadium for development works when it drives foot traffic through surrounding businesses. It fails when people drive just to the game, go to the game, and leave. 10 dates a year is simply not enough traffic to sustain a business. Tell the 'skins to build their own stadium, don't waste DC's money on it.

by Zeus on Mar 27, 2014 9:09 pm • linkreport

Stating that most players live in DC tells me all I need to know about Gray. Any pro athlete living in DC is probably residing near the Verizon Ctr., within walking distance...I don't call that living in the city...

Also, having a domed stadium at the old RFK site makes sense...with metro. 295 and SW freeway closeby,makes this a no brainer.

A retractable dome makes is feasible for winter use along with natural grass for football and baseball, just as RFK was...What is the Dan Snyder or the city waiting for????

by pentagon40 on Mar 28, 2014 12:24 am • linkreport

No stadium discussions for that team till they change the racist name/logo.

by @ShawingtonTimes on Apr 5, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

Even if we had a local, less offensively monikered, professional football team seems we'd still be serving the interests of the rich over local residents. American football is notoriously and criminally exploitative of athletes (w/ under the table PEDs then leaving them physically and financially crippled), women (where are the full figured cheerleaders?) and minorities (deluded w/ pipe dreams of fortune that more often than not lead to ruin).

It makes a better statement to keep them out of the Nation's Capital to send a message until the NFL cleans up its act. 

As long as fans keep their heads in the sand about the reality of what happens to their supposed heroes, nothing will change. It would only take a mass boycott of a few games to send a message.

Redskins are Racist. By that token why not call them the Washington N*****? Chocolate City and the team are made up by Negros than any other group. (Apologies to African Americans and the NACCP, but you should go after Tarantino Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj who use that with reckless abandon and make a lot of money from blacks doing it! Just trying to bring home the issue so my peeps can relate. Don’t kill the messenger.)

by @ShawingtonTimes on Apr 5, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

What about norfolk,va,you could rebuild harbor park,football,baseball,monster jam,concerts,soccer and its on the water,plenty of parking,and access from three different interstates, its a win for everyone,it was just an idea,think about it

by Richard Jackson on Sep 15, 2014 4:46 am • linkreport

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