WASHINGTON — The last true home game has been played at RFK, as D.C. United closed out its 2017 season there in October. In 2018, they will move to Audi Field, a new 20,000-seat stadium at Buzzard Point, leaving RFK with only one-off sporting events and concerts left on the schedule.
The big question now is what to do with the throwback stadium, which is too big for concerts, too old and small for the NFL, too archaic to be trendy, and too full of nostalgia to throw away? There are three real possibilities:
1. Knock It Down
This is the ultimate end to every building: what goes up must come down. But it won’t be cheap.
Stadiums are usually destroyed through implosion, dismantling, or partially dismantling and then blowing up the rest. The exact costs for those three options are not known, but recent figures for old stadiums are daunting.
In 2012, the Houston Chronicle reported the following figures:
Houston’s Astrodome was pegged at between $29 million and $78 million, which also included the cost of asbestos remediation and the construction of a plaza in its place. Before D.C. ultimately destroys RFK, they have to have a plan in place for the space that is left behind.
2. Keep It Around, Ready to Go
After the Nationals opened Nats Park in 2008, the day-to-day use of RFK largely came to an end. D.C. United still uses and will continue to use RFK Stadium as a training and practice facility until a new training complex is established, but that incurs cost.
According to the Washington Business Journal, D.C. paid more than $2 million for security and maintenance at RFK last year. That includes the fact the RFK and the D.C. Armory operated at a $900,000 loss.
The good news is that Events D.C. budgets $2.5 million per year to maintain the facilities, so they actually came in below cost for fiscal year 2016.
Some of those costs, including utilities, could be lowered without day-to-day use, but there is no zero cost option.
3. Keep it Around, As an Artifact
D.C. sports fans are a nostalgic bunch, and there doesn’t seem to be an insatiable appetite to destroy one of the last remaining ties to the glory years of D.C. sports. From the bouncing seats to the “We Want Dallas!” chants, to the risks of exposure to tetanus and asbestos, there’s a lot to love about RFK’s treasured history.
But, apparently, even going with the “mothball option” would cost money, according to the Business Journal:
As for the stadium itself, there are no plans to mothball it, [Events D.C. CEO Greg] O’Dell said last month. Mothballing — shutting off its systems and making it unusable without knocking it down — would come with its own costs, as one facilities management expert told me last month.
“You have an obligation and a duty to maintain it so you can remain open. Or you have to mothball it — and we’re not mothballing it.”
So where to go from here? The land that RFK sits on is owned by the federal government and is leased to the District by Congress. D.C. has discussed redevelopment plans for the land that can either feature a major sporting venue or not.
Either way, they need action by Congress to either extend the lease or grant the land to the District permanently.