House Oversight Committee advances bill to extend lease of RFK.jpgw1440

House Oversight Committee advances bill to extend lease of RFK site in Washington DC – The Washington Post

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A bill that would allow DC to redevelop that The location of RFK Stadium was proposed by a key House committee on Wednesday but not without considerable debate over whether the district should be allowed to use public funds for a potential new stadium for the Washington Commanders.

The RFK legislation is key to a key priority of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s third term: redeveloping the run-down eyesore into an attractive mixed-use development – ​​anchored by a Commanders Stadium whether Bowser (D) can lure the team. Because the federal government owns the land, D.C. cannot implement the redevelopment plans within the framework of the existing lease agreement, making the passage of this law the first step.

The House Oversight Committee advanced the bill with broad bipartisan support by a vote of 31-9, setting it up for possible consideration on the House floor in the fall. An amendment by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn) to prevent D.C. from using public funds to finance a stadium ultimately failed 13-24, despite above all That included support from Maryland Democrats Jamie Raskin and Kweisi Mfume. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) is committed to retaining the Commanders, who currently play at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County.

The change sparked heated disagreements surrounding D.C.’s autonomy and the policy of taxpayer-funded sports arenas. It threatened to preemptively scuttle any plans DC might have made in the near future to lure the Commanders to DC with the promise of taxpayer money – something that critics say shouldn’t exist anyway. And while the change failed, it hinted at the political hurdles Bowser could face locally, depending on whether and how the city planned to build and finance a stadium for the Commanders. who haven’t yet said where they want to go.

“We had two votes today and prevailed on both,” Bowser said afterward, hailing the bill’s passage and the defeat of Perry’s amendment. “Both votes were votes for the District’s right to self-determination and self-determination and how we can invest our local dollars in federal land to put it to productive use. Extending this lease to 99 years will allow us to do that and have a very thoughtful conversation about what happens next.”

The bill, the RFK Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act, would amend D.C.’s lease with the federal government, extending it for 99 years. while at the same time broadly expanding development opportunities. The current lease provides for recreational opportunities and a sports stadium. However, this bill would allow for the residential and commercial components needed to bring to life the vision of a stadium anchoring mixed-use development, a popular approach among NFL owners.

Perry said he is not opposed to developments such as shops, restaurants and housing for D.C. residents. “What I oppose is the use of public funds to finance the redevelopment of the site for a multi-billion dollar sports franchise,” he said.

The entire stadium debate has shown how tricky it is to attract a professional sports team to a city when public money is involved. DC hasn’t yet decided how it would fund a stadium if commanders decided to come to DC – but the complexity of that decision is already becoming clear as the RFK bill moves through Congress and DC council members are divided, whether they should build a stadium and how to finance it.

The same division energized members of Congress on Wednesday — in a politically unexpected way. Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) opposed restricting how DC spends its money on RFK development — while Raskin, the ranking member of the committee that pushed for DC statehood, supported the change.

Rep. Daniel S. Goldman (D-N.Y), who said he grew up in D.C. and was a pro-Washington advocate I’m a member of the RFK team and would welcome a new stadium, summed up the strange political situation this way: “I’m not sure what’s going on cosmically if I agree with the chairman and with my friend, the senior member, I disagree.”

Comer said Congress should not create a “unique ban” on D.C. by preventing the city from using public money if it decides to use it for a stadium. The city, he said, should have flexibility in its redevelopment plans. He acknowledged that he wasn’t always opposed to restricting D.C. – he was instrumental in preventing the blockage of two bills on crime and policing – but said that in this case he wanted to work with Bowser to provide economic benefit to the city help. He was worried Perry’s amendment would “hinder” that goal.

“We have criticized some of the decisions the Washington City Council has made regarding crime. But I think we need to do everything we can to work with the city to create jobs and take a vacant property and redevelop it – that’s what we want,” Comer said.

DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) agreed with Comer, saying that DC officials “should be able to decide for themselves how to spend DC dollars.”

However, Raskin agreed with Perry’s basic position: he opposed the use of taxpayer money to build a sports stadium for a multibillion-dollar private company. “We have a national problem with communities, counties and states being rocked by very popular multi-billion dollar franchises,” Raskin said in an interview after the debate.

Maryland is expected to compete with D.C. and Virginia as the Washington Commanders consider sites for a new stadium in all three jurisdictions, although Raskin added that he also opposed the use of public money for the Commanders in his home state.

Given Raskin’s longstanding support for D.C. autonomy, he and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) got into a brief back-and-forth during the hearing over whether the amendment would trample on D.C. sovereignty.

“I don’t like using taxpayer money for stadiums,” Connolly said. “That is my philosophical position. But that is different than prohibiting what the District of Columbia can do with its local resources.

Raskin tried to draw a distinction: DC’s lease was with the federal government – which falls under the jurisdiction of Congress and, in his view, makes the terms of the lease reasonable. “It doesn’t appear to be a pure home rule issue,” he said, referring to D.C.’s ability to govern itself, “because it’s a question of disposition of federal lands that we control.”

Bowser shot back in a tussle with reporters afterward, saying that “Maryland” – clearly implying Raskin – was making a “very concerted effort … to handcuff us.” “I see a lot of ironies here that those who advocate for DC statehood and home rule are simultaneously arguing for their own self-interest rather than what is best for DC and RFK country,” Bowser said.

“That’s not true,” Raskin said in an interview afterward, arguing his position was independent of his feelings about D.C.’s home rule. “I generally oppose the government spending taxpayer money on stadiums as a form of corporate welfare.”

Bowser advocated for committee members in the hours after the debate, urging them to vote against Perry’s amendment, which she called a “clear attack on home rule” in a letter to committee members.

The room was silent as the clerk read the roll call as the committee returned to vote on Perry’s amendment. After the votes were counted and the amendment failed, Comer looked at the split and called it “the most interesting coalition” he had ever seen. “We’ll be studying this roll call vote for decades,” he joked.

If the RFK bill is passed by Congress, there will most likely be a similar debate about funding a stadium in the DC Council. There are no official proposals yet to finance a stadium; Bowser said the administration is still working to select a contractor to conduct a “sports study” that could shed light on possible funding options for stadiums.

Bowser said she wanted to get feedback from experts before creating a proposal, but added, “There’s no one in this room more interested in this.” I care more about the people of the District of Columbia than I do about myself. It is only in my interest to advance the best scenario for DC and our taxpayers.”

At least six D.C. Council members have already told The Washington Post they would not support public financing, and a handful of others still oppose a stadium. But they were united in their support of the federal bill.

“It’s no secret that I don’t believe an NFL stadium at this location is the best idea, but I will make sure everyone knows that I believe this legislation is a good deal for the District,” Councilmember said Charles Allen (D- District 6) said before a council meeting Tuesday. “Whether we agree on a stadium or not, we should be the ones who get to make that decision and that to me is the bottom line.”

The Commanders, with new ownership led by managing partner Josh Harris, are in the early stages of searching for a site for a new stadium. Harris didn’t specify whether he preferred D.C., Maryland or Virginia, and when asked about the search, he was careful to remain noncommittal and thank all the local leaders for welcoming him to the city.

Moore has said he will support providing public money to the team, but has not specified how much, while Virginia cannot currently offer public money because it has not passed a stadium authority bill. The commonwealth cannot introduce legislation until the General Assembly convenes early next year, but if Harris’ group fully and privately funds the stadium, it could be built in Virginia without a stadium authority.

The House oversight action on Wednesday came the day after a favorable hearing for the RFK legislation in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing, where a D.C. official and representatives from the National Park Services encouraged members to support the bill.

Delano Hunter, the acting director of the D.C. Department of General Services, told the committee that the legislation could allow D.C. to transform the site into a premier sports and recreation destination. Currently, he said, aside from a few fields for recreational sports, “most of the 190-acre campus sits empty day after day.”

Tiffany said he recently rode RFK for the first time and found it to be a “blot on the landscape.” The city, he said, should have control to make it an asset for the community.

“I would prefer to give more freedom and flexibility, with the responsibility that should be included in it,” Tiffany said of the bill. “I don’t want us to micromanage.”

Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.