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D.C. would get to buy the RFK Stadium site from the feds under new congressional bill

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and other District leaders want the land to come under local control

The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (2017)
BrianPIrwin/Shutterstock

The District’s non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has formally proposed legislation that would have the federal government sell the 190-acre Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium site to D.C., which could then redevelop the land as it sees fit. Under Norton’s bill, the land would be sold exclusively to D.C. at “fair market value.”

Local leaders have for years eyed the site. It is located along the Anacostia River and is one of the last large, undeveloped areas in the city, with no current concrete plans for its future use besides some new recreational fields, an indoor sports facility, a market hall, a few pedestrian bridges, and a memorial to Kennedy. These uses would far from fill the entire 190 acres, and many residents say they support transforming that tract into new housing, retail, and parks.

The stadium has largely sat empty after D.C. United ceased playing there in 2017 and moved to Audi Field in Buzzard Point. Speculation about the possible return of the Washington NFL team to the site has run rampant over the past few years—last August, Mayor Muriel Bowser told the team to “bring it home”—but no official plans for the stadium have been confirmed.

“This vast, unused track of federal land has incredible potential in the hands of the District of Columbia,” Norton said in a statement on Tuesday. “Currently, the federal government gains no revenue from this site, nearly 90 percent of the 190-acre campus consists of parking lots, which do nothing to strengthen our local economy. The D.C. government can make full use of this land for purposes that benefit the community and our economy.” During her recent State of the District speech, Bowser previewed Norton’s bill, saying it would “fully convey” the site.

“To be clear, there is no deal to bring a professional sports team to that site,” Bowser said. “Whether a stadium or sports arena is included in the reimagined RFK campus is a debate for a future date, which we as a city should decide by, and for, ourselves.” After the speech, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who represents the neighborhoods directly west of the site, tweeted that while he opposes a would-be NFL stadium going there, “we should all agree that the future of this site should be in DC’s hands, not the federal government[’s]. #HailNo”

The U.S. Interior Department currently owns the land and leases it to the District, which may only use it for recreational, stadium-, or open-space uses under its lease, which is to expire in 2038. In a statement on Tuesday, Bowser praised Norton’s bill, calling it a “win-win for both the federal government and D.C. residents.” “In our growing, thriving city, we cannot afford to let any land go to waste, and a national monument dedicated to asphalt benefits no one,” she continued.It is time that we add the RFK Campus to that list so that we can create new housing, jobs, economic development, and tax revenue.” The bill now stays with Congress.

RFK Stadium

2400 E Capitol St NE, Washington, D.C. 20003 (202) 587-5000 Visit Website