WASHINGTON — In yet another blow to the Washington Commanders' plans to move its stadium when a lease at FedEx Field expires, a majority of the DC Council has made it explicitly clear they will not support any NFL stadium being hosted on the RFK campus.
"The debate is done," Councilmember Charles Allen tweeted Thursday, alongside a copy of a letter he and six other council members addressed to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
In the letter, the council members suggest myriad alternate uses for the space, including affordable housing, parks and recreation and access to health care services, fresh food and other retail opportunities.
"We all hope that the Washington Commanders can address its ownership’s many off-the-field failures — in particular its failure to provide a safe working environment for women — and, secondarily, can return to its former glory on the field," the letter says. "However, we believe that this riverfront property, one of the last large undeveloped parcels of land in the District, must be utilized in the best interest of District residents."
Allen went on to stress the importance of D.C. gaining control of RFK campus so that the city could control how it is used. Currently, all 190 acres are federally owned and leased to the District, meaning nothing can be done until Congress changes the terms of its current lease with the city, or lets D.C. buy the land from the government outright.
"Once we gain control of this beautiful riverfront site, our job is to ensure it’s used to benefit District residents," Allen tweeted. "Putting tax dollars toward the bottom line of a billionaire’s team with an ugly history of racism and misogyny does not benefit District residents."
The letter to Norton claims the economic benefits of a stadium are not in the best interest of the city.
"Study after study have shown that there is no economic benefit to cities that subsidize professional football stadiums, and the attendant vast parking lots, for use 8-10 times per year," the letter says. "The District already has many concert venues that attract the biggest stars and can host marquee events ... and we all know that no matter what promises the Commanders make about their willingness to pay for a stadium, District taxpayers will end up footing the bill for any number of costs."
Only 27 of the 190 acres of the RFK campus have been developed so far. In 2019, The Fields at RFK – complete with playground and soccer fields – opened to neighbors and visitors on the Northeast side of the stadium closest to Benning Road. Bike and walking paths wrap around the park leading to Ward 7’s hidden treasures: Kingman and Heritage Islands.
But since the Commanders left D.C. more than 25 years ago, most of RFK and its many parking lots have sat empty, leaving neighbors desperate for development.
The council's letter comes on the heels of the Washington Commanders defensive coordinator drawing fire for defending tweets drawing comparisons between racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 and the Capitol riot in 2021.
Jack Del Rio was replying to a news article about the Jan. 6 hearings when he asked why the summer of "riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property" isn't getting the same level of attention by lawmakers, hashtagging the tweet #CommonSense.
Del Rio doubled down Wednesday while speaking to reporters about the message he wanted to send with the tweet.
"I can look at images on the TV, people's livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down, no problem," Del Rio said Wednesday. "And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we're going to make that a major deal?"
In his tweet, Del Rio didn't acknowledge the deaths connected to the Jan. 6 riot or the more than 140 police officers who were injured.
In a statement released hours later on Twitter, Del Rio walked back portions of his comments, apologizing for referring to the insurrection as a "dust-up," saying that language was "irresponsible and negligent." The coach continued to stand by the rest of his comments, supporting peaceful protests, but condemning community violence.
"I have fully supported all peaceful protests in America," Del Rio wrote. "I love, respect, and support all my fellow coaches, players, and staff that I work with and respect their views and opinions."
Though the council's letter to Norton did not reference the comments directly, Allen's own Twitter comments made it clear they played a role.
"While yesterday’s offensive comments by a team coach is yet another reason not to spend public money on the team, the fact remains simple: football stadiums are a uniquely bad use of a tax dollars," he tweeted.
Also on Thursday, Virginia lawmakers who sponsored legislation hoping to lure the Washington Commanders' new stadium to the state announced they are now tabling the bill amid controversies surrounding the team. Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), the main sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a brief interview with the Associated Press that there were too many issues to be resolved and controversies surrounding the NFL team for the legislation to proceed. The bill now remains in committee until the end of the legislative session, but it could be reintroduced next year, he said.
“We greatly appreciate the time and effort of bipartisan leaders throughout the Virginia General Assembly in crafting legislation to establish a Football Stadium Authority," the Commanders said when asked for comment. "Given the complexity of this endeavor, coupled with the remarkable economic development opportunity that we believe our new venue project represents, we support the decision of stakeholders in the House of Delegates and the State Senate to more deeply examine this issue. We look forward to continued engagement and open dialogue with stakeholders across the Commonwealth to share our vision and hear directly from communities on their economic development objectives and how we can be a trusted, reliable partner to realize those outcomes.”