As one era of RFK ends, plans for its future begin

Editor’s Note: Another chapter ends this weekend for D.C.’s historic RFK Stadium, with the final D.C. United game on Oct. 22. While it will no longer be the home of D.C. United, the stadium will continue to be used for events. WTOP takes a look back at the amazing memories made there over the past 56 years. Check out more from our special report, Remembering RFK.

WASHINGTON — Sunday may be #LastCallAtRFK for D.C. United, the building’s final professional sports tenant, but that doesn’t mean the wrecking ball’s set to come crashing through Monday morning.

The stadium and its surrounding campus will remain open for events in the near term. That includes everything from college football games (such as the recent Georgetown-Harvard tilt) and international soccer friendlies to endurance races and motor sports events that can be contained in the sprawling parking areas, helping avoid unnecessary road closures.

But more significantly, with United moving across town to Audi Field, the painstaking legal and regulatory processes required to advance the five-part RFK future plan are finally underway this week.

An aerial rendering of the short-term RFK site plans. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC)
An aerial rendering of the short-term RFK site plans. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy OMA/Events DC)
A rendering of the sports and recreation complex from the outside. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
A rendering of the sports and recreation complex from the outside. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
A rendering of the inside of the proposed sports and recreation complex. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
A rendering of the inside of the proposed sports and recreation complex. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
A view of the two-level market hall near Kingman Park. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
A view of the two-level market hall near Kingman Park. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The view from inside the market hall looking out at the athletic fields. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The view from inside the market hall looking out at the athletic fields. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from River Terrace to Kingman Island. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from River Terrace to Kingman Island. (Courtesy  OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from the south tip of Kingman Island to the RFK Site. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from the south tip of Kingman Island to the RFK Site. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from the south tip of Heritage Island to the RFK site. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from the south tip of Heritage Island to the RFK site. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
An aerial view looking south at the site after short-term projects have been completed and the stadium has been razed. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
An aerial view looking south at the site after short-term projects have been completed and the stadium has been razed. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC) (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium  is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore) (WTOP/Jack Moore)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium  is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore) (WTOP/Jack Moore)
The inonic orange seats at RFK Stadium. The stadium hosts its final United game Oct. 22. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
The iconic orange seats at RFK Stadium. The stadium hosts its final United game Oct. 22. (WTOP/Jack Moore) (WTOP/Jack Moore)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium  is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. Another view of the stadium from earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore) (WTOP/Jack Moore)
Washington Redskins fans stand in line towards RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington waiting to purchase tickets for next Saturday's NFC championship game against the winner of Sunday's Green Bay-Dallas game, Jan. 16, 1983. The fans started gathering around the stadium late Saturday night after the Redskins defeated the Minnesota Vikings 21-7 to advance to the championship game of the National Conference. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)
Washington Redskins fans stand in line towards RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington waiting to purchase tickets for next Saturday’s NFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday’s Green Bay-Dallas game, Jan. 16, 1983. The fans started gathering around the stadium late Saturday night after the Redskins defeated the Minnesota Vikings 21-7 to advance to the championship game of the National Conference. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz) (AP/Ira Schwarz)
This is an air view of the District of Columbia Stadium in Washington, seen July 7, 1962.  The first 1962 All-Star game will be played here July 10. The main entrance is in the foreground. (AP Photo/Bob Schutz)
This is an air view of the District of Columbia Stadium in Washington, seen July 7, 1962. The first 1962 All-Star Game will be played here July 10. The main entrance is in the foreground. (AP Photo/Bob Schutz) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Bob Schutz)
Construction on the stadium in February 1961 -- about eight months before the Redskins played their first game there. (Courtesy EventsDC)
Construction on the stadium in February 1961 — about eight months before the Redskins played their first game there. (Courtesy Events DC) (Courtesy EventsDC)
(1/16)
An aerial rendering of the short-term RFK site plans. (Courtesy OMA/Events DC)
A rendering of the sports and recreation complex from the outside. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
A rendering of the inside of the proposed sports and recreation complex. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
A view of the two-level market hall near Kingman Park. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The view from inside the market hall looking out at the athletic fields. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from River Terrace to Kingman Island. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from the south tip of Kingman Island to the RFK Site. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
The proposed bridge from the south tip of Heritage Island to the RFK site. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
An aerial view looking south at the site after short-term projects have been completed and the stadium has been razed. (Courtesy: OMA/Events DC)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium  is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium  is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
The inonic orange seats at RFK Stadium. The stadium hosts its final United game Oct. 22. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
RFK will host the final D.C. United game Oct. 22. The stadium  is seen here on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month. (WTOP/Jack Moore)
Washington Redskins fans stand in line towards RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington waiting to purchase tickets for next Saturday's NFC championship game against the winner of Sunday's Green Bay-Dallas game, Jan. 16, 1983. The fans started gathering around the stadium late Saturday night after the Redskins defeated the Minnesota Vikings 21-7 to advance to the championship game of the National Conference. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)
This is an air view of the District of Columbia Stadium in Washington, seen July 7, 1962.  The first 1962 All-Star game will be played here July 10. The main entrance is in the foreground. (AP Photo/Bob Schutz)
Construction on the stadium in February 1961 -- about eight months before the Redskins played their first game there. (Courtesy EventsDC)

For those who are just catching up on those plans, Events DC has been working with surrounding communities for the last two years to decide how to best redevelop the 190-acre space. Those plans have changed over time, but can be broken down into five components, which Events DC expects to complete in the following order:

  • Three new multisport playing fields
  • A 61,600 square-foot market hall, supporting grocery and restaurant vendors
  • A 350,000 square-foot sports and recreation complex
  • Pedestrian foot bridges connecting the site to Kingman and Heritage Islands, and those islands to the East side of the Anacostia River
  • A lasting memorial of Robert F. Kennedy

In addition, Events DC is working with the National Park Service to determine how the land should be owned and managed moving forward. Under the existing lease, which still has 21 years left, the site is required to be allocated for sports and entertainment purposes. They are exploring whether or not to simply extend the lease or try to transfer ownership of the land, and what effect that would have on those provisions.

Following his testimony in front of Congress regarding the issue last week, president and CEO of Events DC Greg O’Dell spoke with WTOP about the current state of the project.

“We’re favorable of either approach,” said O’Dell, who emphasized that he wanted to make sure current plans (especially for the market hall) were compliant with the lease. “We just want to make sure, as we go into that process, that there is confirmation of that.”

While the five program elements have been discussed for nearly a year, they are now being put into action. After working with the Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park (CRYSP) to settle on the most functional design, Events DC hopes to break ground on the three playing fields by the beginning of 2018.

“We wanted to design the fields in a way that can be used by multiple sports,” said O’Dell. “They were helpful by showing us ways that we could divide those fields so that some of the smaller children can play on certain smaller portions of the field, so that we get better utility as well.”

Even as construction begins on the fields, other events will return to the RFK campus in the spring, including the Shamrock Festival and Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Expo & Finish Festival.

“Aside from the physical stadium, we still are going to do lots of activities on what we now call the festival grounds, which are the parking lots and surrounding areas,” said O’Dell.

Meanwhile, the regulatory process starts this week, which means some of the next steps are unknown. There may be environmental hurdles, which will become clearer as these processes move forward. The market hall still has a hopeful completion date by the end of 2020, with the recreation complex coming after that. The final two elements require additional governmental approval, though.

Before Events DC can build the bridges, they’ll need signoff from the Army Corps of Engineers. And while they’ve engaged the Kennedy family to help design a fitting, lasting memorial, that process can be a lengthy one in D.C. A full 15 years passed between Congress’s 1996 authorization of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and its dedication in 2011.

In the interim, Events DC plans to continue to solicit input as the first pieces of the future of the RFK campus begin to come online in the next few years.

“We’re going to continue to advance the design on all of these elements, and that will include still engaging the community,” said O’Dell.

RFK is dead; long live RFK.


Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2017 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up