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House Passes Bill To Allow RFK Stadium Redevelopment, Potentially For NFL Return

A bill that would clear the way for a new football stadium in the nation’s capital — and potentially the return of the NFL's Washington Commanders from Maryland — has scored its first major win.

The House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday night to hand D.C. control of the 174-acre site of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

RFK Memorial Stadium, which is being demolished, hasn't hosted a professional sports team since 2017.

If the bill passes the Senate and becomes law, it would allow the District to develop the area now home to the defunct stadium that is undergoing demolition, and the largely underutilized parcels around it, into a mix of uses, including commercial and residential, recreation, open space and a new stadium.

The D.C. Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act passed the House around 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday by a vote of 348-55.

“This bill is a win-win for the federal and D.C. government,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s nonvoting representative in Congress, said on the House floor Wednesday. 

The land around RFK Stadium is owned by the federal government, which has leased it to D.C. since 1988 with a 2035 expiration. But under the current rules, D.C. can’t develop commercial or residential uses on the property. 

Under the bill, the National Park Service would transfer administrative jurisdiction to the District, allowing for mixed-use development. The federal government would continue to own the land, but the General Services Administration would lease the 174 acres to D.C. for $1 annually for 99 years.

The legislation would also require D.C. to designate at least 30% of the campus as parks and open space. D.C. wouldn't be allowed to use federal funds for any stadium development. 

Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky, introduced the bill last summer, co-sponsored by Holmes Norton. 

“The bill enables D.C. to transform the unused RFK campus into stores, restaurants, office buildings and apartment complexes,” Comer said during the debate. “This economic development will help revitalize the RFK Stadium campus, creating new jobs and tax revenue for the District’s residents.” 

Although the bill passed by an overwhelming margin in the House, the Maryland delegation was against it. The state is home to the Washington Commanders, which have played since 1997 at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County. FedEx is ending its naming rights deal for the stadium two years early, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. 

Rep. Glenn Ivey, a Democrat from Maryland, said that while he doesn't object to mixed-use development, he wants Prince George’s to have a fair shot to compete for the Commanders. The bill, he said, would unfairly advantage D.C. in that competition. 

“It's most certainly not a level playing field when one interested jurisdiction receives a free transfer of federal government-subsidized land,” he said. 

The possibility of the Commanders coming back to D.C. comes at an especially precarious time for the city's professional sports teams. Ted Leonsis, owner of the NHL's Capitals and NBA's Wizards, is attempting to move them across the river to Northern Virginia.

In July, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a new sports team arm of her administration to “maintain, attract, and grow world-class sports teams and sporting events in Washington, DC.”

In August, her administration requested proposals for a study to examine how a new stadium at RFK would be financed and identify pro sports teams that play in the city that want to see their facilities upgraded. The study will be conducted by JLL and The Robert Bobb Group, Bowser's office announced in October

“Tonight’s vote was a significant step forward in our efforts to unlock the full potential of the RFK Campus — for our residents and visitors, the community, and DC’s Comeback,” Bowser said in a press release after the House passed the bill.

“We look forward to working with the Senate to swiftly advance this legislation.”