The Hogan administration negotiated a memorandum of understanding with a federal agency to gain control of a parcel of land near National Harbor, part of a strategy to keep the Washington Redskins from leaving the state.
The MOU, negotiated with the Department of the Interior in September, 2017, followed a written request from the governor to President Trump. It apparently went undisclosed for more than a year, until a Friday report in The Washington Post.
The agreement centers on a 300-acre tract at Oxon Cove Park, just inside the Capital Beltway near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
The move to win control of the parcel comes amid increasing speculation about where the team will end up next. While the Redskins are committed to play at FedEx Field in Landover until 2027, the stadium is unpopular, and it’s difficult for fans to reach.
On Sunday, the team played in front of tens of thousands of empty seats, despite actively pursuing a spot in the post-season. The team has removed thousands of seats due to declining fan interest, and the ‘Skins no longer claim to have a waiting list for season tickets.
Several years ago, team owner Daniel Snyder commissioned an architect to begin design work on a new stadium, one that would evoke the intimacy and quirkiness of RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., where the team played during its glory days. It moved to FedEx Field in 1997.
David S. Iannucci, a top economic development official for former Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), said he was unaware of the state’s agreement with the federal government.
“That was news to me and to folks in the Baker administration,” he said on Sunday.
Iannucci said Baker also wrote Trump in 2017, to request that the Department of Interior transfer the Oxon Cove site to the county.
“They [the state and the county] were acting on separate tracks but in the same direction,” he said.
News of the state’s agreement with the federal government also took members of the General Assembly by surprise. One lawmaker said Sunday he was trying to track down a copy of the deal.
A Capitol Hill source cautioned that it would take an act of Congress to make the transfer official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations.
The Post also reported on Friday that Snyder is working with congressional leaders, D.C. officials and the White House to insert language in a government spending bill that would help him if he and the city can strike a deal on a new stadium at the RFK site.
According to the paper, the city’s lease on the stadium site, with the National Park Service, stipulates that the land must be used for “stadium purposes” or “recreational facilities, open space, or public outdoor recreation opportunities” only, precluding commercial development.
It’s believed Snyder could be enticed to return to D.C. if the land adjacent to a new stadium — or street-facing retail at the park itself — were able to generate revenue on non-game days.
The city’s lease with the National Park Service runs through 2038. The language officials hope to insert into the federal government spending bill would add 99 years to the lease. Snyder is reportedly pushing for quick action on the provision he wants, out of a belief that Democrats, who take control of the House of Representatives in January, may be less likely to work with him, in part due to the controversy surrounding his team’s name.
In addition to the District, Virginia is also expected to try to lure Snyder to build his new stadium there. The team’s training facility is in Ashburn, Va., and their training camp is in Richmond. Many of the team’s players live in Northern Virginia, and Metro is currently extending the Silver Line into Loudoun County.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) courted the team vocally, though his successor, Gov. Ralph Northam (D), has been less aggressive – at least in public.
Why was Maryland’s agreement with the federal government not disclosed at the time it was signed, in September of 2017? A spokeswoman for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) did not respond to an email on Sunday.
The Maryland site being eyed for a possible NFL stadium is home to two popular attractions — the Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm. They were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
The park provides environmental studies, a farm museum, wildlife observation, fishing, and other recreational activities. It could not be learned on Sunday what would become of these attractions if the land was made available to Snyder for an NFL stadium.
On Twitter Sunday, state Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) said he would reintroduce legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session to create a compact between Maryland, Virginia and D.C. in which all three jurisdictions refuse to provide public funding for a new Redskins stadium. His legislation – along with companion bills in D.C. and Virginia – failed earlier this year.