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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

...Fight For Ol' DC

Talk of bringing the Redskins back inside District lines is abound lately. Cost estimates for a domed stadium are roughly in the $1 billion range. The stadium would be designed to host all the Redskins' home games with hopes of bringing the Super Bowl or the NCAA final four to Washington, DC in the future.

Let me start off by saying that I am the biggest Redskins fan around. Apart from military a few obligations, I haven't missed watching a Redskins game since the 80's. One of my goals in life is to be well-off enough to get season tickets. I have accumulated a very extensive memorabilia collection. You get the idea.

It is important to point out that the Washington Redskins have been a part of this city since 1937. The team has set NFL attendance records eight years in a row, and it is the third most valuable sports franchise in the world. The team has sold out every home game since 1967. The NFL is by far the most prominent professional sports league today, and the Redskins are the second most valuable franchise in the league.

Which was why I was a little troubled by something I read on Richard Layman's blog regarding the notion of relocating the Redskins' stadium back into the District:


(Emphasis was in the original text)
There are an endless stream of reasons that building a new Redskins stadium in the District would be a bad idea, but I must strongly object to this language when approaching this topic. Professional sports are a very, very important cultural institutions for the cities where they exist. Sports institutions are just as large a part of the culture of a city as its cuisine, art, music, and theater. Spending money on sports venues is just as important as spending money on other cultural venues like the Kennedy Center or the Corcoran Galleries.

I was for the Verizon Center. I was for Nationals Park. and I am for DC United Stadium. But as much as I love the Redskins, I cannot foresee any parcel of land where a new Redskins stadium would be a good thing for the city. For starters, this new stadium is going to be larger than FedEx Field, the Redskins current home, a 92,000-seat stadium in Landover. It will also likely be larger than the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a 100,000+ monstrosity. Even the most casual football fan knows that the Redskins and the Cowboys are constantly one-upping each other.

So now we are talking about a stadium with almost DOUBLE the capacity of RFK's 57,000. RFK didn't have too much more capacity than National's Park, and Metro could handle the game day rush. I'm not so sure that this would be true if the numbers were doubled. Assuming three quarters of ticket holders (75,000) live outside the District (which I feel may be conservative, but I don't know where to get the numbers on that), that means that on game day, the population of the city swells by about one eighth. This project has absolutely no chance of getting rid of the surface parking that plagues the area, especially considering the significantly larger footprint of the stadium structure.

Football fans are going to drive because football fans are going to tailgate before and probably after the game. This is why they open up parking five hours before kickoff. When I go to a Redskins game, it usually winds up being a 10 hour ordeal. Most of the folks I know have rather elaborate tailgating set-ups. This phenomenon certainly is not unique to the Redskins. Any team, any city, any weather, there will be tailgating. And why not? At $8 a beer and $5 for a bratwurst, may as well have a party outside the stadium in the parking lot. I imagine this also has to do with the fact that venues as large as football stadiums would flood local businesses on gamedays, and therefore you don't see too many NFL stadiums surrounded by commerce like the Verizon Center. The difference between 17,000 fans and 91,000 fans is... well, do the math. Then imagine five or six times as many people cramming into RFD and Fido in Chinatown on game night.

I poked around, and I can't seem to find an inner-city NFL stadium that appears to have a positive impact on the surrounding area. Soldier Field in Chicago appeared to be among the best:

View Larger Map

Lambeau Field
in Green Bay didn't appear to have any surface parking around the stadium, but Green Bay is the smallest American city with a major pro sports team. However, if it were possible to build a stadium with that small of a relative footprint, I'm all for it. Unfortunately, the majority of NFL stadiums wind up looking more like Detroit's Ford Field, vast expanses of surface parking in the downtown. Just like FedEx Field, only FedEx Field's parking is effectively in the middle of nowhere.

This raises the question, is the payoff from the stadium worth the bad urbanism? Well, Ryan Avent doesn't think it's such a good deal to begin with. This enormous chunk of land will host 10 football games a year, eight regular season and two preseason. Best case scenario, another two if my Skins suddenly make a run at the Super Bowl. There may be a Super Bowl or two held there, plus a couple of NCAA tournament games every couple of years. Let's also throw in a major concert, like the HFStival once a year. Maybe another major event or two a year that I'm not considering. My most generous estimation gives fifteen events at this venue in one year. Nationals Park hosts 81 Nats games alone every year. As for the Phone Booth, I've seen the Capitals, Wizards, Georgetown Hoyas, multiple concerts, and a three ring circus there. every other day there is a major event at that place.

GreaterGreaterWashington argues that if all this venue will bring is civic pride, $1 billion is too too costly. This place is going to be sitting vacant for 350+ days a year, occupying riverfront property and containing surface parking that will no doubt contribute to pollution in the Anacostia River. GGW points out the National Capital Framework Plan would have a much more positive economic impact on the city. I tend to agree.

Fedex Field is only 12 years old. It is currently the largest stadium in the NFL. It has sufficient parking, it is convenient to highways, it is served by Morgan Boulevard Metro station, and it is at a location close in and relevant to the city. It may not be inside the District, but it is at least inside the Beltway. As I mentioned in the post linked above, the stadium (and the Metro station, for that matter) have not led to any fantastic economic development in Landover, why on earth would it lead to such progress in East End? RFK Stadium never did.

So here it is, coming out of the mouth of the most die-hard Redskins fan on earth: There is no place for a new stadium in the District of Columbia. Perhaps an adjacent site in Landover or elsewhere in Pringe George's County (hopefully a little more convenient to Metro), maybe something in Virginia along the Silver Line, but certainly not anywhere in DC. I'd love to see this town host a Super Bowl. But not at the expense of acres of some of the city's most valuable real estate.

PS- if you're at the game on Sunday, I will be tailgating in Green Lot F60. Look for the eccentric guy with the knit cap with the ball on top.


Peter said...

the question is not 'for' or 'against' - the question is "How much taxpayer money should line Dan Snyder's pockets?"

with museums and such, they're non-profits, generally can't support themselves, etc. as you said, the redskins are one of the most valuable franchises in the world. can we not rely on them to finance their own stadium? or will they threaten to move to richmond? or arlington? will they extort dc like most teams extort money from their host cities? and will dc officials give in to the demands?

we should settle on a figure. $300 million? $500 million? is that how much working-class folks should put into Dan Snyder's bank account? more? less? let's all just make out our checks right now. i know Dan is hurting right about now.

for the record, i say '$0'.


Dave Murphy said...

I beg to differ, the question definitely ought to be for or against. There are scores of reasons not to want this stadium built inside the District.

Yes, many museums are non-profit, but there are plenty of taxpayer-subsidized cultural venues in DC that are not. It behooves the DC area to have a professional football team. It does not behoove DC to have a new football stadium.

Cavan said...

Thank you for a reasoned argument against such a stadium in the District. My reaction to Richard Layman's posts have been similar to yours. I too am a huge sports fan. I could care less about the Redskins. I'm a big DC United fan. I'm in favor of the soccer stadium at Poplar Point because a) I'm a fan and b) there's an opportunity for benefitting the city as a whole. As you said 27,000 and no surface parking (just a limited garage) is a whole heck of a lot different than 100,000 and acres of surface parking.

Not to get off topic, but I appreciate you making the distinction between different kinds of stadiums and how some are quite compatible with a walkable urban environment while others aren't. While I love Richard's ideas and consider him an excellent urbanist, I have to disagree with him painting all stadiums with a broad brush.