The Hogan administration on Monday defended its pursuit of a large parcel of federal land near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Oxon Hill, touting the site as an ideal location for a new pro football stadium.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said he has met with Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder at least twice to discuss Oxon Cove, a 300-acre parcel just inside the Capital Beltway near MGM National Harbor, and currently the site of a park and farming museum.
“This is a major economic development project for the state,” said Amelia Chasse, Hogan’s communications director. “We think it’s a terrific site.”
Chasse said the network of multi-lane roads that run near the site offer potential convenience for fans from Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
“We believe this is the right location for the team,” she said.
The statements from the governor’s office come as political leaders in Prince George’s County complain that they’ve been made bystanders on a high-profile project that — if it happens — would have a major impact on area residents.
“I feel pissed off — and you can print it that way,” said state Sen.-elect Obie Patterson (D), who represented the Oxon Hill area on the County Council for eight years. “I’m sitting here — I’ve been in this area, in this county, since 1971. And I know Gov. Hogan is the governor, but we have a responsibility, too.”
Patterson and others maintain that they had no indication that the state signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Interior in September 2017, until a Washington Post report last Friday.
“I feel a little bit insulted that no one has the decency to even mention it,” he said. “I had no idea that the governor had submitted a letter and [signed] a MOU from the Interior Department. Here we are, the day-to-day operations people who live right here, who pay the taxes down here, who travel these roads down here, and we don’t know as much as I believe we should.”
Chasse said that negotiations involving private firms are often kept from public view due to the sensitive nature of the discussions. “The document that was signed was a non-binding, conditional MOU… [that] essentially starts an exploration process for transferring the site to the state.”
She said the process is subject to an environmental review and other conditions, many of which are time-consuming.
Traffic and other worries
For many area officials, a major concern centers around the traffic that a stadium would generate.
Oxon Cove is just inside the Capital Beltway from a casino, the MGM National Harbor, and the Gaylord Resort, successful venues that have brought a significant increase in traffic.
“I don’t know how anyone can think about bringing the Redskins there without some drastic increase in better transportation,” said Patterson. “We can hardly get around through Oxon Hill now. You talk about bringing in another facility such as the Redskins, we would almost just be choked out.”
State Del. Jay Walker (D), who also represents the area, said a new stadium would be a burden on the community.
“With transportation issues that we’re still trying to get fixed to this day, you almost have to say ‘what’s the transportation plan?’” Walker said.
“They’ve already changed our way of life down in my district with the addition of National Harbor and the MGM casino. You’re talking about [adding] another 100,000 people in that region. I don’t know if that’s what the community signed up for.”
Another unknown is whether a football stadium would provide enough of an economic shot-in-the-arm to make the inconvenience worthwhile.
“We’ve had a football stadium in our county for so long,” said Walker, referring to FedEx Field in Landover, where the Redskins have played since 1997. “We need to look to see is it really giving the economic development that we think comes along with it.”
Walker, who played for the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings in the NFL, said basketball and hockey venues like Capital One Arena in D.C. have enough dates to create spinoff opportunities for neighborhood businesses, but he’s not sure football stadiums bring the same benefits. NFL teams play eight home games during a season and two pre-season games at home.
“I want to see the numbers, to see if having [football] stadiums really do produce economic impact for the region,” Walker said.
At this point, it’s not even clear if the Redskins would seriously entertain any offers from the state to relocate. While the team’s lease at FedEx Field lasts until 2027, the Post reported that the team’s ownership and certain congressional leaders are pushing for a provision in a forthcoming federal budget deal that would enable the club to build a new stadium at the site of the old RFK Stadium in the District.
Also unknown is what would become of federally-owned Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm if the state and the Redskins strike a deal on a new stadium, to say nothing of the “witness tree” — the “War of 1812 Willow Oak” — on site, the bald eagles that nest on the grounds or the environmentally sensitive watershed.
“I think wholesale giving away of federal land is unusual,” said Phil Francis, chairman of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and a former superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A local official who didn’t want to be quoted by name said a development as large as an NFL stadium would be likely to trigger a raft of lawsuits.
“It’s already protected land. It’s already government land,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to designate for re-use.”
Community activist Sarah Cavett, a former member of the Prince George’s County planning board member, agrees. “If you’re talking a domed stadium, surface parking, you’re right on the [Potomac] River, there would be so much impervious surface, I think that would have a terrible deteriorating effect on the Potomac, on our entire area.”
“Do I think it’s the best place for stadium?” Cavett added. “No, I don’t.”
John E. Erzen, deputy chief of staff for new County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), said she and Hogan have had general conversations about keeping the Redskins in Prince George’s, but they have not discussed specific locations.
“She has said she wants to keep the Redskins here,” Erzen said. “Anything beyond that is not a conversation that we have been a part of.”
Monique Anderson-Walker (D), who succeeded Patterson on the County Council last week, remembers playing at Oxon Cove as a child.
“I think it’s a great location for development,” she said. “I don’t know if a stadium alone is the way to go. I’d like to see diversified uses there, mixed uses. But that’s something that the people would have to determine that they want. The people should definitely have a say in how it happens and what they need.”
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.