RFK stadium bill passes House in first step to wooing Washington Commanders back to DC

The House passed a bill on Wednesday that will transfer ownership of the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium land to the District of Columbia to revitalize the area, paving the way for district leaders to draw the Washington Commanders NFL team back to the district.

The D.C. Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act, co-sponsored by rare duo Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), aims to lease the federally owned RFK land to the district government for 99 years, allowing them to redevelop the land as they choose. It passed the lower chamber, 348-55. Just six Democrats voted no and they were all representatives from Maryland, the Commanders’ current home.

“Today’s passage of the D.C. Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act represents Congress doing its job to oversee the District,” Comer said in a statement following the vote.

“Absent congressional action, this land would sit unused, and the ongoing maintenance costs and environmental liabilities would remain the full responsibility of the federal government,” the Oversight Committee chairman continued. “This legislation was long overdue, and I look forward to working with the Senate to advance this bill to the President’s desk.”

Rep. Nick Langworthy (R-NY), who spoke in favor of the bill ahead of the vote, said this legislation will aid the local government in turning what “was once a blight on our nation’s capital to a thriving area of commerce and community.” 

Comer has pitched the bill as a relief to taxpayers, transferring revitalization authority to the D.C. Council but not allowing federal dollars for any future development of a stadium. Instead, it will give the district the ability to create storefronts, restaurants, and office buildings. 

Passing the bill brings the district one step closer in its efforts to draw the Commanders back for the first time since 1996, when the NFL team moved to FedEx Field in Maryland. Mayor Muriel Bowser has been vocal about relocating the team to the district, while some D.C. Council members and local community members living near the stadium have pushed back against the efforts.

Washington, D.C., is not alone in lobbying the Commanders. While Maryland is pushing to keep the NFL team, Virginia is hoping to add the Commanders to their list of recent wins. The Washington Wizards and Capitals announced plans to leave Washington, D.C., for a new sports arena in the Potomac Yard area. The pending moves would be a blow to Bowser’s image and agenda.

Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-MD) opposed the bill ahead of the vote, as he believes Prince George’s County, where FedEx Field is located, should be able to “compete on a level playing field” to keep the Commanders in the Old Line State. 

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

“I’m not opposed to D.C. bidding to be the new home of the Washington Commanders, but its pursuit of the Commanders should be no different than its efforts to compete with Virginia for the Wizards and the Capitals,” Ivey added.

Following the vote, other House Republicans expressed their displeasure with the RFK vote.

“Throughout this process I’ve been trying to ensure that Taxpayers aren’t on the hook for buying a new NFL stadium – especially since the NFL is tax exempt – which I’m pretty sure will happen by the end of this,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.

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Norton, a major proponent of Washington, D.C., statehood, pushed back on those claims, arguing that “whether to build a stadium at the land would be a decision for the elected D.C. government.”  

“This bill is a win-win for the federal and D.C. government,” Norton said on the floor.

The legislation now heads to the Senate.

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