- - Thursday, December 13, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is about to walk in the shoes of late owner Jack Kent Cooke on the path to a new football stadium.

That path may likely lead to the same place — Maryland.

Federal and District lawmakers are lining up against a plan, reported last week by the Washington Post, to put a clause in a lease extension on the federal land where the Redskins’ old home, RFK Stadium, sits that would allow commercial development at the site.

That change would be a necessary first step to putting in a new, state-of-the-art facility at the site, and if city leaders and their allies in Congress torpedo the effort, it’s likely a deal-breaker for the District’s efforts to attract the Redskins back to the city.

They left the District following the 1996 season to play in their current home — FedEx Field in Landover in Prince George’s County.

Redskins and city officials were hoping to keep this little political play quiet, but now that the word is out, opposition is mobilizing — including neighborhood leaders around RFK who want the land to reserved for recreational and public-use purposes.

And, of course, there is the controversial Redskins name.

A letter from D.C. Council Member David Grosso to Congresswoman Eleanor Norton criticized the back-door deal and cited the opposition to the name of the team. “The prospect of the District of Columbia would once again welcome a team whose name promotes prejudice and enforces harmful ethnic stereotyping runs counter to the ideals of equality, diversity and inclusion for all that we have long embodied,” he wrote.

Never mind that the only two legitimate independent polls, conducted 15 years apart, including the latest Washington Post poll two years ago, came up with the same results — nine out of 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the name.

Critics have ignored those results and are determined to force a name change. That won’t happen, but they are a vocal-enough minority that the city and the team will have to jump through all sorts of political hoops if they have any legitimate hopes of building a new football stadium in the District.

Trying to get this done before the Democrats take control of the House next month was a long shot, but likely the only shot the project had.

Incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues are not friends of Redskins owner Dan Snyder and have their issues with the team name as well.

Without the change, which would give Snyder, his partners and developers a chance to profit from commercially valuable riverfront property, it’s difficult to see how the city pulls off landing the Redskins.

Without that provision, what do they have to offer Snyder?

The city can’t afford to help pay for any of the stadium. This isn’t a Nationals Park situation, where the city paid the full price for a new stadium (an investment that will have paid for itself many times over, given the revenue the city is taking in from development around the park) or even an Audi Field situation, part of the Southwest Washington waterfront development, where the city agreed to pay for half of the stadium.

No, without commercial development in and around the RFK site, all they will have is a football stadium — an outdoor football stadium that sits empty for much of the year and, as an economic driver, helps no one.

Given the enemies that Snyder and the Redskins have made over the past 20 years, there would be little, if any sentiment, to help the billionaire build a stadium with city funds. That would leave Snyder to foot the bill for his new stadium.

He will, like Cooke, who ran into similar problems when he first started his quest for a new stadium in 1987, have an option a few miles away, in the state of Maryland.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is offering a prime piece of land — 300 acres — in Oxon Hill, next to the MGM National Harbor casino. While Hogan said Maryland will not offer any funds for stadium construction, he did open the door to paying for infrastructure — just like the state did for Cooke in Landover.

The MGM corporation already has national deals as sports-betting partners with the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball. The Sports Business Journal reported that NFL owners were presented with a plan for securing a national casino sponsor at their meeting this week in Orlando.

District officials, led by Council Member Jack Evans, are pushing for legalized sports betting in the city. A vote on that proposal is scheduled for Tuesday.

Virginia is likely not a factor, and despite the proclamations of former governor Terry McAuliffe, it was never truly an option. Virginia may perhaps be more difficult to get projects like a massive professional football stadium built than the District. See how many high-profile plans have failed in northern Virginia — including Cooke’s efforts to try to put his stadium in Potomac Yards.

This is a two-horse race between the District and Maryland, and, of the two, the District may have more to overcome to win, even if, as reported, returning to the city is Snyder’s sentimental preference.

Then there is the other owner District officials will soon find themselves negotiating with — Ted Leonsis, who owns Capital One Arena, home of three of his professional sports franchises — the Wizards, Capitals and the Arena Football Washington Valor. Leonsis is also partners with the city in the recently-opened 4,200-seat Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast Washington, home of the Washington Mystics and Leonsis’ new NBA G League development team, the Capital City Go-Go.

Leonsis recently told the Washington Business Journal that his goal is to keep his teams at Capital One Arena for another 20 years. He said he has spent $110 million on renovations since he became the building’s owner, and that he could see them spending another $100 million on infrastructure and technology in the future.

It will cost more than that to renovate the arena, which opened in 1997, as a viable home for another 20 years, and the city will likely be asked to foot some of that bill. The late owner Abe Pollin built the arena with his money, but the city contributed the land, issued $60 million in “arena bonds” for other costs and in 2007, a $50 million tax increment financing loan was used to upgrade the arena scoreboard.

Currently, the Phoenix Suns are fighting for $230 million in upgrades for their arena, which opened in 1992 but underwent renovations in 2003. Under their proposal, the city would pay $150 million for those costs.

It is also a complicated and rough road to get a stadium built, and the District has particularly difficult roadblocks.

Jack Kent Cooke couldn’t get around them. I doubt if Dan Snyder will be able to.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.


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