For the three D.C.-area clubs currently in their offseasons — the Nationals, United and the Redskins — substantive developments and rumors have swirled around stadium and training site proposals and investigations.
While progress continues on preparations for the MLS’ newest stadium at Buzzard Point in southwest D.C., the Nationals have begun to move forward on their joint spring training complex with the Houston Astros in Palm Beach, Fla. And, on the most speculative side, the Redskins have hinted at a stadium change.
The D.C. United deal is a genuinely exciting one that still seems a little too good to be true. Four years after the club announced its interest in the site in January 2011, the various parties have finally come to terms. The city government vacillated back and forth on its willingness to finance part of the stadium, and at multiple points plans were pronounced dead. Now we have a deal that finally makes a state-of-the-art stadium into one of the more storied, standard-bearing franchises of the MLS.
It may be more of a knock on the pedigrees of D.C.’s other franchises than anything else, but United is one of the most successful franchises in American soccer. It is an MLS charter franchise with four MLS championships and Supporter Shields to its name, along with a fan support tradition that has long deserved better housing than the crumbling RFK Stadium in which it currently plays.
As we move beyond the convoluted land swap and funding deals that begun the process, details of the stadium are beginning to take shape. The Washington Post has detailed some of this progress — a March 2017 opening date is the current target, and the stands are expected to hold 20,000 fans or more, larger than Verizon Center’s listed capacity of 18,000. The city is also expected to make public transportation accommodations to make the stadium comfortably accessible. Architectural drawings and designs are expected to make the whole setup look slick.
The Nationals’ spring training site developments are a little more out of the ordinary. A deal for a joint project with the Astros, a team that plays about 1,200 miles away from the Nationals, has been in the works for some time, with the Nationals looking to position themselves more centrally than Space Coast Stadium in Melbourne, Fla. — a ballpark that is, at least, a two-hour drive from any of the other Florida spring training sites. According to MLB.com, the Astros have also been looking into relocation, as they currently train in Kissimmee, Fla., which is also a lengthy drive from where most teams train. With the Astros’ and the Nationals’ spring training leases expiring in 2016 and 2017, respectively, a joint venture was born.
The mockups of the West Palm Beach proposal, per ESPN, were approved by the local government at the beginning of the month. The expansive new facility is complete with training complexes dedicated to each team closely hugging the main stadium and practice fields that are accessible to fans. If everything comes together, the deal will be a win-win for both clubs, combining the positives of a prime location and new amenities.
Of course, any talk of new stadiums must also touch on the Redskins. FedEx Field, the bane of any D.C. sports fan’s existence, has dissuaded me from attending an NFL game since 2006. Longtime Georgetown fans will also understand the ambivalence fans display towards the cookie-cutter, parking lot-surrounded location in Landover, Md. — it is the former location of the Capital Center, the arena the Hoyas decided to ditch (along with the Wizards/Bullets and the Capitals) in the late ’90s. The soulless, isolated stadium now serves primarily as the battleground of a Redskins organization taking seats away to convince the public that the stadium is still selling out.
While the Redskins’ lease in Landover doesn’t expire until 2027, multiple overtures have been made toward the construction of a new stadium, intended to target growing disenchantment with the stadium. Though FedEx Field was initially billed as a behemoth to hold the legions of fans of the successful franchise of the ’90s, it has since become a testament to bland architecture and bad logistics.
The latest development in the Redskins’ stadium saga was a survey released and advertised to Redskins fans asking them about their desires in a new stadium. Questions ranged from food choices at the stadium and its accessibility via public transportation to the importance fans lent to the seats rocking and shaking as they did in the RFK stadium. Whether this survey is substantive or intended to distract people from the woes of the franchise is up for debate, but I believe that plans will have to be set in motion soon if a new site will be chosen.
While my dream scenario of the newly vacated RFK being torn down and replaced by an Olympic stadium that the Redskins would subsequently occupy has been dashed since D.C. lost the 2024 Summer Olympics bid, RFK is still a prime site for a new stadium. Redskins owner Dan Snyder has the money to build a new stadium and the city government has shown willingness to help, so it wouldn’t be too shocking to see some more stadium construction for the Redskins in talks in the near future.
Matt Raab is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. AROUND THE DISTRICT appears every Tuesday.