By Michael Hoffman
Walking through the National Building Museum’s latest exhibit, Unbuilt Washington, it’s hard not to consider the debate about whether the city should allow the Washington Redskins to build their new headquarters and training facility in Capitol Hill East next to RFK stadium.
Sketches hang on the walls of canals running through what is now the Mall and exquisite bridges replacing the dull ones that cross the rivers today. One sketch even shows elaborate parks lining the Anacostia next to a proposed stadium. Of course, RFK got built, but the parks seen in the drawings have been replaced by abandoned buildings on a lot known as Reservation 13.
I’m afraid if the National Building Museum put together another Unbuilt Washington exhibit 20 years from now the museum curators would use sketches of the waterfront restaurants, condos, and retail stores seen in the master Hill East redevelopment plan voted on by the City Council in 2002.
Until reports appeared of a secret trip to Tampa Bay taken by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans to see the Buccaneers training facility, no one was talking about redeveloping Capitol Hill East. An entire decade passed without any real movement to act on the master plan to replace the eyesore that sits on the Anacostia River today.
And here’s why:
Lost in the sweeping statements about how Hill East is one of the most desirable plots of land left in D.C. to redevelop is the discussion about what stands there now: the D.C. Jail, a methadone clinic, a homeless shelter and a sexually transmitted disease clinic. Where will these services go if they are replaced by fancy bistros and high end condominiums? Which city councilman is going to raise his hand and offer up his ward for the transfer of a homeless shelter or a methadone clinic? And how many restaurant owners want to build an outdoor patio next the DC Jail, which is too expensive to move?
This is exactly why as a Hill East resident I’m not completely dismissing the notion of welcoming the Redskins to the neighborhood. Having the Redskins return could actually spur redevelopment in the neighborhood, not ruin it. In a perfect world, I would agree with D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells and say I would much rather see the area reap the benefits of waterfront development.
But this is Washington D.C. where Marion Barry is still an elected official and a city councilman is going to jail for setting up a fake youth baseball charity to steal money. Sorry if I don’t have a ton of faith in the city council navigating the political landmines of moving a homeless shelter or methadone clinic in a timely manner.
This is why welcoming the Redskins makes sense. Nothing else brings this town together quite like the Redskins despite their recent record. Giving a councilman the opportunity to tell his constituents he was responsible for bringing the Redskins back to DC because he agreed to build a homeless shelter in his ward might be Hill East’s only hope.
According to preliminary proposals of where the Redskins facility would be built, there would still be room to build a portion of the waterfront development seen in the master plan, albeit a smaller scale. At this point I’d rather see a smaller version of the plan built rather than wait another 10 years and see Reservation 13 still stand.
If welcoming the Redskins back to Hill East and sacrificing a few restaurants means removing those abandoned buildings and starting the redevelopment project, then I’d say Hail to the Redskins.