LifestyleDebate over RFK Campus: Stadium or Mixed-Use Projects?

Debate over RFK Campus: Stadium or Mixed-Use Projects?

As a bill ceding control of the RFK campus to the District makes its way through Congress, residents continue to debate whether the D.C. government should fund the construction of a new stadium or use the 174 acres for a mixture of projects of direct benefit to District residents.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks to a filled auditorium at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church in the Kingman Park neighborhood. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
The debate raged on at Benedict the Moor Catholic Church in Northeast, where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser doubled down on her appeal for a mixed-use campus that’s anchored by a stadium during a meeting with community members. 

For the dozens of young people who attended the meeting on Oct. 18, not much of what Bowser said laid to rest their concerns about Maloof Skate Park, the future of which is in question. 

For more than a decade, Maloof Skate Park has served legions of young skateboarders who frequent the 15,000-square-foot arena — located just feet from RFK Stadium — to practice tricks, commune with one another, and relieve stress.  

Long after the stadium’s closure, young people, like Tayron Watts, continue to call Maloof Skate Park a home away from home for those living in portions of the city lacking in safe public spaces. 

“This is such a good community. We don’t steal from each other. We don’t fight. If someone needs something, we give it to them without charging them,” said Tayron, a 17-year-old Northeast resident who has frequented Maloof Skate Park since elementary school. 

Tayron counted among nearly two dozen young people who converged on Benedict the Moor Catholic Church on Wednesday evening, 

For more than an hour,  Tayron and his friends, many of whom wielded skateboards and sported long locs of various colors, listened as Bowser read a statement and answered a series of questions about her intentions for the RFK campus. Community questions ran the gamut, from how the new stadium would be funded, to whether there would be space for other activities, and how to mitigate concerns about traffic, public drunkenness and noise pollution. 

Much to Tayron’s disappointment, Bowser didn’t say much about Maloof Skate Park. She only encouraged community members to forward their questions to her staff. 

“Mayor Bowser didn’t give us the respect of five minutes,” Tayron said. “It was all about money. We don’t have much [space to have fun]. They just want to knock down our local skate park. We don’t know if they’ll add another one. “ 

A Longtime Space for Young Skateboarders 

Maloof Skate Park, also known as Maloof Money Cup Washington D.C. Skate Park, opened during the spring of 2012 for skaters of various skill levels. In 2011, the inaugural Maloof Money Cup took place on the premises. 

The park, designed by pro skater Geoff Rowely and Joe Ciaglia of California Skateparks, includes steps, jumps, ledges, rail, a 4-foot quarter pipe, and vert wall that’s nearly 6 feet. For years after the Maloof Money  Cup, Maloof Skate Park hadn’t been available for public use. 

Though the park is currently open to the public, there are still questions about whether it would be included in the new RFK campus design.

Earlier this year, Bowser allocated funds toward the construction of a D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Sports Complex on RFK Campus. 

In his remarks before a congressional committee last month, Delano Hunter, acting director of the Department of General Services, articulated the Bowser administration’s vision for RFK campus that houses D.C.’s professional football team and allows athletes of all ages to nurture their talents locally rather than in other cities and states. 

Another element of Bowser’s vision, Hunter said, involves its designation as a world-class destination for D.C. residents and out-of-towners who can partake in various activities along the nearby waterfront and communities along the banks of the Anacostia River. 

Bowser didn’t stray from these talking points on Wednesday, stressing to community members that the District doesn’t have to choose between a football stadium and creating a campus that supports large-scale events and serves as an epicenter of economic and human development. 

In regard to the debate around whether District taxpayers should foot the bill, Bowser told community members that the large-scale project would require some public investment to dictate the appropriate infrastructure. She also revealed that the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development commissioned a D.C. Sports Study that analyzes the economic impact of stadium financing. 

Bowser later took community members down memory lane, citing Nationals Park as what she described as a project of long-term economic benefits to District residents. Affordable housing advocates who flooded the space on Wednesday could be heard scoffing at that point.  

In her appeal, Bowser circled back to Capitol Hill, saying that the D.C. government wouldn’t be able to infuse RFK campus with various amenities without the passage of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act. 

“Our task right now is to get control of the land,” Bowser said. 

“Congresswoman Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Comer (R-KY) introduced legislation moving through the House that would allow for an extension of the lease that would allow more than sports — like housing and job opportunities on the campus,” Bowser added. 

“If that legislation didn’t pass, the only thing that could happen at RFK is sports or a stadium like Congress did … when the original RFK was built.” 

For Tyler Willis, Bowser’s words fell on deaf ears. 

Tyler, a Northeast resident and student at Eastern High School, started skating at Maloof Skate Park at the height of the pandemic. With the future of what he called his therapeutic activity in question, Tyler said he didn’t like Bowser’s insistence on building another athletic facility. 

Skateboarding, Tyler said, is a niche activity that deserves more attention and respect from the city, especially since it helps many of his peers who are weathering the storm of an economic downturn and uptick in violent crime. 

“We already have [athletic] fields [in the city],” said Tyler, 17. “RFK campus has three parking zones and none of them are used except the first. There are no grocery stores, no nothing. The government just wants to get rid of everyone. Mayor Bowser was dodging questions. I couldn’t even listen. It was more about what it would cost. It was about tax dollars.” 

On Wednesday, the Friends of Kingman Park, host of the community meeting at Benedict the Moor Catholic Church, released the findings of a survey conducted by the RFK Future Task Force. For at least two months, the task force, composed of community members from Kingman Park, Rosedale, Hill East, River Terrace, and Capitol Hill,  surveyed 2,000 people from eight neighborhoods. 

Two out of three respondents said they didn’t want a new stadium on RFK campus. 

They instead expressed a desire for a parks and nature complex, recreation sports complex, open green space, and housing. Pressing concerns among respondents centered on the use of taxpayer dollars, lack of parking enforcement, whether a stadium would be used throughout the entire calendar year, residents losing property via eminent domain, and how to secure a historic designation for nearby Kingman Park. 

Tristan McKnight, a skateboarder from Southeast, said he hoped that Bowser takes into consideration all perspectives when deciding the future of RFK campus. Whether that will happen has yet to be seen, he told the Informer. 

For two years, McKnight has frequented Maloof Skate Park with his friends. Based on what he sees while out and about, McKnight said that there’s more than enough space on RFK campus for amenities that support residents’ various interests, particularly skateboarding. 

“I understand that the skaters aren’t the only community [that benefit from RFK campus] but I don’t appreciate that the city wants to tear something down [when] there’s a lot of land in that area,” McKnight said. 

“I don’t feel that Mayor Bowser is disregarding our request [but] she’s putting her effort into building the Commanders stadium rather than help us keep our skate park,” McKnight added. “She didn’t let us know if it’s going to be rebuilt.” 

Meanwhile, Devonte Walton, a skateboarder of four years, said he sees Maloof Skate Park as more than a slab of pavement. It’s where he embraced his love for skateboarder Kevin Bradley and Supreme skateboarding videos. It’s where he also came of age in a city where young people often don’t feel safe. 

“I met some of my closest friends at that park,” said Walton, a Northeast resident. “My best memories are just us chilling, freestyling, making jokes. The park has helped so many people. It can help more people in the future. It’s important that Bowser doesn’t demolish it.”

Source: Washington Informer

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