Design & Development

District of Columbia says goodbye to RFK Stadium

The District of Columbia has officially bid farewell to RFK Stadium, with the long-term future of its most iconic sports and concert venue yet to be determined.

An event was held yesterday (Thursday) to mark the ceremonial removal of the last orange wooden seats of RFK Stadium’s lower bowl. Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District, last month launched Farewell RFK Stadium, a campaign to celebrate the venue’s legacy ahead of its demolition.

RFK Stadium opened in 1961 as the DC Stadium and was renamed in honour of Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1969. After serving as a sports and concert venue until 2019, the stadium has since been closed to the public and is now undergoing selective demolition. 

RFK Stadium served as the home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins (now Washington Commanders) from 1961 to 1996 before the team moved to FedExField. RFK Stadium’s famous atmosphere spurred the team on to three Super Bowl triumphs in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The stadium also hosted Major League Baseball teams the Washington Senators and Nationals from 1962 to 1971 and 2005 to 2007, respectively, and Major League Soccer outfit D.C. United from 1996 to 2017.

It was announced in September 2019 that the 47,000-seat stadium would be demolished. Events DC started the selective demolition, including abating hazardous materials, in August this year. Major structural components are scheduled to be demolished by the end of 2023. 

Speaking yesterday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said: “DC has made a lot of good memories at RFK, and now as we say farewell to this stadium, we are looking ahead to the future. We are thinking about all the possibilities for this 190-acre campus – the opportunities to honour the legacy of Senator Kennedy with housing, jobs, opportunity, and more.

“We have a strong track record of putting underutilised federal land to productive use, and we want to do the same here. The Fields at RFK have given us a glimpse into what is possible. We look forward to building and opening a world-class sports complex here. And there is so much more potential to activate this space, to connect our waterfront, and to make this campus a major destination for Washington, DC and the region.”

Over recent years, Bowser and Events DC have joined efforts to put parts of the campus back to productive use for the community, including opening The Fields at RFK Campus in 2019. The Mayor’s budget includes $60m (£48.9m/€56.9m) to create the SportsComplex@RFK, an indoor sports complex that will accommodate the likes of gymnastics, indoor track and field, and boxing.

As the District looks to the future of the campus, Bowser is seeking the complete transfer of the 190-acre campus to the District from the federal government. The Washington Post notes that Bowser would like to reserve some of the land for a new stadium, in addition to affordable housing and recreation, with the city clearing the site and a team paying for the new facility.

The most likely candidate for such a stadium would seem to be the Commanders. The Commanders currently play at FedExField in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The franchise has a contract to play at FedExField until September 2027 and the team has been exploring options for a new home, with Virginia and the District of Columbia, along with Maryland, having been linked as potential locations.

However, the team’s potential return to DC would be faced with multiple challenges. A majority of D.C. Council in June ruled out using the site of RFK Stadium to house the franchise. Councilmember Charles Allen said the D.C. government “unequivocally” wouldn’t support using the land for a new football stadium.

D.C. policymakers are also wary of dealing with the Commanders’ current ownership group, which is mired in several high-profile scandals related to sexual harassment and financial improprieties.