WASHINGTON -- Will the nation's capital ever lure the Redskins back from the suburbs? For some District of Columbia officials, including Mayor Vincent Gray, that's a dream worth trying to make a reality.
The mayor and members of the D.C. Council met with a largely skeptical audience at a Thursday night community meeting at the D.C. Armory to discuss plans to redevelop Reservation 13, a piece of land at the eastern end of Capitol Hill near RFK Stadium, where the Redskins played until 1996 before decamping for Landover, Md.
While Capitol Hill residents and smart-growth planners have been longing for the city to move on a redevelopment initiative that would bring a vibrant mixed-used community to Reservation 13, it's also where some city officials think a Redskins training facility might fit perfectly.
As Washington City Paper detailed, officials didn't really have any news to share:
"Nobody wants to bring out anything that is half baked to a community. I think the worst that you could ever do is bring out a proposal to somebody, and there are more questions than there are answers," [Gray] told several hundred residents in the vast, echoing D.C. Armory space. "That's one of the reasons why there was no community meeting around this, because there was nothing to present, and there still is nothing to present."
The ultimate dream, of course, is to have the Redskins play home games in a new sports facility on the site of the aging RFK Stadium. But the cash-strapped city isn't in a position to pay for a new stadium right now. An interim step would be to provide a foothold for the Redskins in the form of a D.C. training facility and headquarters at Reservation 13.
The mayor and D.C. Councilmembers Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Michael Brown (I-At-Large) took a secret trip to Tampa, Fla., late last year to tour the Buccaneers training facility, a sports complex that could serve as a model for the possible Redskins training complex at the Hill East redevelopment site, formerly the home of D.C. General Hospital.
And while some D.C. officials may be eager to do anything to get the Redskins back in the city, there are great doubts about the plan to give the Redskins a piece of valuable space at Reservation 13, especially since the training facility would be mostly closed off to the public.
Gray, Evans and Brown told the audience that the Redskins training facility and economic development for the community can both happen at Reservation 13. But accommodating a training facility and a mixed-use Hill East redevelopment would be a tough arrangement to work out.
It's not an easy issue for D.C. officials to push.
As The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis wrote earlier this month, the issue of luring the Redskins back into town "is a divider, not a uniter for Vincent Gray," noting the problems selling the idea of the training facility to residents on Capitol Hill and in adjacent neighborhoods:
The opposition won't end with the neighbors. A politically ascendant group of urban development advocates are already sour on the idea, pointing out that a walled-off training facility will be a black hole in terms of livability. And even if the city doesn't have to directly put up money to build the facility, always-vocal critics of government giveaways to private enterprises will note the enormous opportunity cost of forgoing 30-plus acres of tax-generating development.
Former Mayor Marion Barry (D), who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council, has called the city's efforts to get the Redskins back in the city "fantasyland," since team owner Dan Snyder has "no incentive" to move back into the city.
But one important question remained unanswered at Thursday's meeting: How can any Reservation 13 redevelopment plan move forward if there's a lingering possibility that a Redskins training facility could somehow fit into the picture?
As WRC-TV/NBC4's Tom Sherwood noted, the mayor -- who said there isn't a deadline for the Redskins on the Reservation 13 proposal -- didn't exactly give the crowd any clarity.
In the end, there were more questions than answers from city officials.
"There is really nothing for us to say to you, because there is no plan," Brown said, according to the Washington Business Journal.
In the meantime, residents who have been patiently waiting years for a Hill East redevelopment initiative to proceed will have to wait some more.
Earlier this month, when city officials promised they would engage local residents on the future of the Hill East project, DCist predicted that the meeting would "make for some fantastic civic drama." That prediction, by all accounts, came true.